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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Strengthening the Network of High Conservation Value Forests in Boreal Landscapes

Mikusinski, Grzegorz; Orlikowska, Ewa H.; Bubnicki, Jakub W.; Jonsson, Bengt Gunnar; Svensson, Johan


The natural and old-growth forests and their associated biodiversity continues to fade worldwide due to anthropogenic impact in various forms. The boreal forests in Fennoscandia have been subject to intensive clearfelling forestry since the middle of twentieth century. As a result, only a fraction of forests with long temporal continuity remains at the landscape level. In Sweden, some of these primary forests have been formally protected, whereas other forests with known high conservation values are not. Collectively, both protected and not protected known valuable primary forests are included in a nationally delineated network of high conservation value forests (HCVF). In addition to HCVF, older forests that have not been clearfelled since the mid-1900s, i.e., "proxy continuity forests," have recently been mapped across the entire boreal biome in Sweden. In this paper, we analyze how these proxy continuity forests may strengthen the HCVF network from a green infrastructure perspective. First, we evaluate the spatial overlap between proxy continuity forests and HCVF. Second, we perform a large-scale connectivity analysis, in which we show that adding proxy continuity forests located outside HCVF strongly increases the structural connectivity of the network of protected forests. Finally, by assessing habitat suitability for virtual species specialized in pine, spruce, and broadleaf forests, we find large regional differences in the ability to secure habitat and thereby functional green infrastructure by considering currently unprotected primary forest. We show that, by adding those forests to the network, the area of habitat for low-demanding species dependent on spruce or pine forests can be largely increased. For high-demanding species, additional habitat restoration in the landscape matrix is needed. By contrast, even counting all valuable broadleaf forests available is not enough to provide a suitable habitat for their associated species, which indicates a large need for landscape-scale habitat restoration initiatives, in particular, for broadleaf forests.


continuity forests; primary forests; virtual species; Sweden; connectivity; green infrastructure; Scandinavian Mountains Green Belt

Published in

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
2021, Volume: 8, article number: 595730