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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Landscape trajectory of natural boreal forest loss as an impediment to green infrastructure

Svensson, Johan; Andersson, Jon; Sandstrom, Per; Mikusinski, Grzegorz; Jonsson, Bengt Gunnar


Loss of natural forests by forest clearcutting has been identified as a critical conservation challenge worldwide. This study addressed forest fragmentation and loss in the context of the establishment of a functional green infrastructure as a spatiotemporally connected landscape-scale network of habitats enhancing biodiversity, favorable conservation status, and ecosystem services. Through retrospective analysis of satellite images, we assessed a 50- to 60-year spatiotemporal clearcutting impact trajectory on natural and near-natural boreal forests across a sizable and representative region from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Scandinavian Mountain Range in northern Fennoscandia. This period broadly covers the whole forest clearcutting period; thus, our approach and results can be applied to comprehensive impact assessment of industrial forest management. The entire study region covers close to 46,000 km(2) of forest-dominated landscape in a late phase of transition from a natural or near-natural to a land-use modified state. We found a substantial loss of intact forest, in particular of large, contiguous areas, a spatial polarization of remaining forest on regional scale where the inland has been more severely affected than the mountain and coastal zones, and a pronounced impact on interior forest core areas. Salient results were a decrease in area of the largest intact forest patch from 225,853 to 68,714 ha in the mountain zone and from 257,715 to 38,668 ha in the foothills zone, a decrease from 75% to 38% intact forest in the inland zones, a decrease in largest patch core area (assessed by considering 100-m patch edge disturbance) from 6114 to 351 ha in the coastal zone, and a geographic imbalance in protected forest with an evident predominance in the mountain zone. These results demonstrate profound disturbance of configuration of the natural forest landscape and disrupted connectivity, which challenges the establishment of functional green infrastructure. Our approach supports the identification of forests for expanded protection and conservation-oriented forest landscape restoration.


change detection; clearcutting; continuity forest; continuous cover forest; forest core areas; forest fragmentation; landscape configuration; satellite image; Sweden

Published in

Conservation Biology
2019, Volume: 33, number: 1, pages: 152-163