The tightly-packed crowns of beech forests intercept nearly all incoming light. Hence, only shade-adapted animals, plants and mushrooms can survive in the understory. Nevertheless, beech forests are preferred habitats for many species. These species are highly specialized and have evolved in the dark understory over many generations.
Without human intervention, beech trees would eventually come to dominate forest ecosystems throughout Europe. Beeches grow well on rich, calcareous soils, but also on nutrient-poor, sandy soils, in dry and wet locations, as well as in mountains and on lowlands.
Nowhere in the world are post-glacial forest dynamics documented as well as in Europe‘s relict ancient beech forests. Even today, beech populations have not reached their maximal extent in Europe and continue to advance northward.
The post-glacial migration of beech forests advanced in parallel with the expansion of human settlements in north-western Europe more than 4,000 years ago. Because of their long and intimate relationship with humans, beech forests epitomize the concept of forest for most central Europeans today.