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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Restoration strategies in boreal forests: Differing field and ground layer response to ecological restoration by burning and gap cutting

del Alba, C. Espinosa; Hjalten, J.; Sjogren, J.


The boreal biome is one of the largest in the world and its forests have been widely exploited for centuries. Consequently, large areas have suffered ecological simplification and loss of biodiversity. Under the current circumstances passive conservation measures are no longer enough and active restoration techniques need to be developed and assessed to preserve and recover the loss of biodiversity. We evaluated short- and long-term effects of two restoration methods aimed at mimicking natural disturbances on species richness, Shannon Diversity and community composition of vascular plants in the field layer and bryophytes in the ground layer. The experiment consisted of 18 forest stands in northern Sweden; each assigned to a different treatment: prescribed burning, gap cutting and untreated stands left as controls. A before-after control-impact (BACI) study design was applied and data was collected on three occasions: once prior to restoration (2010) and twice post restoration; one year (2012) and eight years after (2019). We analysed the differences in species richness and Shannon Diversity with linear mixed effect models and community composition changes with multivariate methods. Fire treatment caused an initial decline in diversity for both field and ground layer, but in the long-term, field layer surpassed the species richness and Shannon Diversity values found prior to restoration. Ground layer bryophytes species richness and Shannon Diversity remained lower than pre-treatment. Prescribed burning should, therefore, be used with caution in core areas for bryophyte diversity. Community composition in burned stands differed significantly between each time point as well as when compared to other treatments, for both layers. By contrast, we found no significant differences in diversity measures or community composition after gap cutting. The absence of effects from gap cutting suggests that minor changes in canopy cover does not affect the vegetation structure of forest stands. The organism group-specific responses, and temporal variability to restoration, highlight the importance of including more than one organism group, different restoration methodologies, and long-term studies in order to properly assess restoration outcomes at landscape level.


Restoration ecology; Boreal forest; Fire; Gap cutting; Biodiversity; Forest management

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2021, Volume: 494, article number: 119357
Publisher: ELSEVIER