The beneficial effects of the exposure to the forest environment are the subject of an increasing scientific production aimed at defining and promoting the exploitation of this additional ecosystem service offered by forests, so far barely considered.
In a recent Australian study published in the journal Nature, “Economic value of protected areas via visitor mental health”, the global value of protected areas, taking into account only the effects on visitors’ mental health, was assessed as much as 8% of the world gross domestic product.
Variability and predictability of essential oils in forest atmosphere
The release in the forest air of terpenes and other biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC) by plants and soil is one of the factors contributing to make the environment of natural forests beneficial for human health, especially for the immune system following their inhalation.
The relevance of BVOC for human health stimulated our research on their variability and predictability in time and space, aimed at supplying guidelines to optimize health benefits. The study, carried out with the LaMMA Consortium and the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), Temporal and Spatial Variability of Volatile Organic Compounds in the Forest Atmosphere, was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The biochemical data were collected by means of a photoionization detector (“electronic nose”) along the paths of the Foresta del Teso and Abetina Reale (Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, Italy), as well as in a hilly area of Central Tuscany, from August to October 2019. The measurement campaign was carried out at fixe sites and along tens of km of hiking trails, during several days and at different times of the day. The biochemical data were correlated with the micro-meteorological conditions during the sampling. The analysis showed that the aerial BVOC concentrations exhibited a much higher degree of variability in time and space than previously believed
The variability in time (scale: one hour) and in space (scale: a few hundred meters), were in turn linked to the environmental conditions (micro-meteorological quantities) and to the species, with variations on the order of the absolute concentration (1 ppm). However, the observed regularities allowed suggesting the first hours after sunrise and the hours immediately after midday as the healthiest times of the day, in conditions of clear skies and weak winds, as well as the superiority of forest areas with the presence of conifers, compared to those dominated by beech.
These results represent the first step for the construction of a general model for the optimal selection of sites, routes, seasons and times to optimize the health benefits of forest immersion based on the bioactive properties of the atmosphere.
Collaborations and projects
The development of “certified” stations for Forest Therapy practices represents an innovative path to the sustainable exploitation of the forest heritage, capable of combining environmental protection, health and touristic-economic development of mountain and forest areas.
Hence our collaboration with the Forest Therapy Station of Pian dei Termini (PT), together with the Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Forestry Sciences and Technologies (DAGRI) of the University of Florence, and the Italian Alpine Club (CAI).
The collaboration between HCT-Lab and the Italian Alpine Club started in 2019 with the project “The hidden treasure of conifers in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines (RIFOREST)” (2020-2021), supported by CAI, aimed at redefining the value and the role of conifers residing in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, also using new data and original experiments, some of which are underway at the National Research Council.
The measurement campaign was carried out thanks to the invaluable support of Ion Science Italia, subsidiary of the British parent company Ion Science LTD, the world’s leading manufacturer of PID photoionization sensors and gas detectors, and the Comastri Distribution company.