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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Moving towards multi-layered, mixed-species forests in riparian buffers will enhance their long-term function in boreal landscapes

Hasselquist, Eliza Maher; Kuglerova, Lenka; Sjogren, Jorgen; Hjalten, Joakim; Ring, Eva; Sponseller, Ryan A.; Andersson, Elisabet; Lundstrom, Johanna; Mancheva, Irina; Nordin, Annika; Laudon, Hjalmar


Riparian buffers are the primary tool in forest management for protecting the habitat structure and function of streams. They help protect against biogeochemical perturbation, filter sediments and nutrients, prevent erosion, contribute food to aquatic organisms, regulate light and hence water temperature, contribute deadwood, and preserve biodiversity. However, in production forests of Sweden and Finland, many headwater streams have been straightened, ditched, and/or channelized, resulting in altered hydrology and reduced natural disturbance by floods, which in turn affects important riparian functions. Furthermore, in even-aged management systems as practiced in much of Fennoscandia, understory trees have usually been cleared right up to the stream's edge during thinning operations, especially around small, headwater streams. Fire suppression has further favored succession towards shade tolerant species. In the regions within Fennoscandia that have experienced this combination of intensive management and lack of natural disturbance, riparian zones are now dominated by single-storied, native Norway spruce. When the adjacent forest is cut, thin (5 - 15m) conifer-dominated riparian buffers are typically left. These buffers do not provide the protection and subsidies, in terms of leaf litter quality, needed to maintain water quality or support riparian or aquatic biodiversity. Based on a literature review, we found compelling evidence that the ecological benefits of multi-layered, mixed-species riparian forest with a large component of broadleaved species are higher than what is now commonly found in the managed stands of Fennoscandia. To improve the functionality of riparian zones, and hence the protection of streams in managed forest landscapes, we present some basic principles that could be used to enhance the ecological function of these interfaces. These management actions should be prioritized on streams and streamside stands that have been affected by simplification either through forest management or hydrological modification. Key to these principles is the planning and managing of buffer zones as early as possible in the rotation to ensure improved function throughout the rotation cycle and not only at final felling. This is well in line with EU and national legislation which can be interpreted as requiring landscape planning at all forest ages to meet biodiversity and other environmental goals. However, it is still rare that planning for conservation is done other than at the final felling stage. Implementing this new strategy is likely to have long-term positive effects and improve the protection of surface waters from negative forestry effects and a history of fire suppression. By following these suggested management principles, there will be a longer time period with high function and greater future management flexibility in addition to the benefits provided by leaving riparian buffers at the final felling stage.


boreal; broadleaf; continuous cover forestry; deciduous; forest planning; retention forestry; uneven-aged forestry

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2021, Volume: 493, article number: 119254
Publisher: ELSEVIER