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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Forest history and the development of old-growth characteristics in fragmented boreal forests

Jonsson, Mari T.; Fraver, Shawn; Jonsson, Bengt Gunnar


Can small and isolated high-conservation value forests (e.g. designated woodland key habitats) maintain old-growth forest characteristics and functionality in fragmented landscapes? To what extent have past disturbances (natural and anthropogenic) influenced the development of old-growth characteristics of these forests? How long does it take for selectively cut stands to attain conditions resembling old-growth forests?Southern boreal zone of central Sweden.We linked multiple lines of evidence from historical records, biological archives, and analyses of current forest structure to reconstruct the forest history of a boreal landscape, with special emphasis on six remaining core localities of high-conservation value forest stands.Our reconstructions revealed that several of these stands experienced wildfires up to the 1890s; all had been selectively harvested in the late 1800s; and all underwent substantial structural and compositional reorganization over the following 100-150 years. This time interval was sufficient to recover considerable amounts of standing and downed dead wood (mean 60.3 m(3) ha(-1)), a range of tree ages and sizes (mean basal area 32.6 m(2) ha(-1)), and dominance of shade-tolerant spruce. It was insufficient to obtain clearly uneven tree age structures and large (> 45 cm diameter) living and dead trees. Thus, these forests contain some, but not all, important compositional and structural attributes of old-growth forests, their abundance being dependent on the timing and magnitude of past natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Our landscape-level analysis showed marked compositional and structural differences between the historical forest landscape and the present landscape, with the latter having a greater proportion of young forests, introduction of non-native species, and lack of large trees and dead wood.The remnant high-conservation value stands were not true representatives of the pre-industrial forests, but represent the last vestige of forests that have regenerated naturally and maintained a continuous tree cover. These traits, coupled with their capacity for old-growth recovery, make them valuable focal areas for conservation.


Coarse Woody Debris; Dendrochronology; Fire Ecology; Historical Records; Land-Use History; Picea Abies; Southern Boreal Zone; Stand Dynamics; Stand Reconstruction; Sweden; Woodland Key Habitats

Published in

Journal of Vegetation Science
2009, Volume: 20, number: 1, pages: 91-106

    SLU Authors

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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