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Doctoral thesis2012Open access

Forest floor vegetation in Sweden : impacts of intensified forestry, nutrient addition and changes in forest structure

Hedwall, Per-Ola


In boreal forests, dwarf-shrubs (Vaccinium spp.) often dominate the forest floor and are key-stone species in ecosystems due to their importance for nutrient cycling and as a major food source for herbivores. Forestry affects the vegetation both directly through management and indirectly by altering the forest structure. Forest fertilization with N at the end of the rotation period is a common practice in Swedish boreal forests. Even higher timber production can be achieved if fertilization with multi-nutrient fertilizer is applied early in the rotation period, but the effects on forest floor vegetation have not been studied. The objectives of this thesis were to increase knowledge regarding how 1) intensive fertilization in young forest affects forest floor vegetation; 2) background deposition of N influences the effects of N addition; and 3) to relate observed changes in common species abundances to changes in forest structure. Fertilization decreased the abundance of many common forest plant species while only few species increased (I). Surprisingly, also species known as nitrophilous decreased in abundance. Paper I shows that the decrease in availability of light induced by fertilization is a crucial factor behind this change. Consequently, fertilization reduced both species richness, species diversity and the between site (β) diversity (II). In areas where the background N deposition was low (4 kg ha-1 yr-1), the effects of N addition were larger than in areas with intermediate (16 kg ha-1 yr-1) deposition (III). Key-stone species among the forest floor vegetation of boreal Sweden (e.g. Vaccinium myrtillus) were found to decrease in abundance (IV). These species are strongly dependent on aspects of forest structure, such as forest density and age, and likewise, temporal changes in species abundance coincided with corresponding changes in forest structure (IV). In conclusion, in large parts of Sweden the prevailing forest management is incompatible with a productive forest floor vegetation possessing a high diversity of plant species, and this situation will only be exacerbated by more intensive use of fertilization regimes. To avoid associated cascading effects from the decreased abundance of key-stone species, forestry intensity needs to be relaxed on the landscape level which would likely result in a considerable loss of timber production. Compensation for this loss through intensified forestry on other areas would indicate the need for altered forest zoning.


Bryophyte; Deschampsia flexuosa; Eutrophication; Forest understory; Forest undergrowth; Herbaceous layer; Lichen; Picea abies; Vascular plant

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2012, number: 2012:70ISBN: 978-91-576-7717-4Publisher: Institutionen för sydsvensk skogsvetenskap, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet