The healing effects of the forest are increasingly being valued for their contribution to human psychological and physiological health, motivating further advances aimed at improving knowledge of relevant forest resources. Biogenic volatile organic compounds, emitted by the plants and accumulating in the forest atmosphere, are essential contributors to the healing effects of the forest, and represent the focus of this study. Using a photoionization detector, we investigated the high frequency variability, in time and space, of the concentration of total volatile organic compounds on a hilly site as well as along forest paths and long hiking trails in the Italian northern Apennines. The scale of concentration variability was found to be comparable to absolute concentration levels within time scales of less than one hour and spatial scales of several hundred meters. During daylight hours, on clear and calm days, the concentration peaked from noon to early afternoon, followed by early morning, with the lowest levels in the late afternoon. These results were related to meteorological variables including the atmospheric vertical stability profile. Moreover, preliminary evidence pointed to higher concentrations of volatile organic compounds in forests dominated by conifer trees in comparison to pure beech forests.
Keywords: bioactive compounds; forest air; forest bathing; forest therapy; hiking trails; human health; monoterpenes; stress; volatile organic compounds.