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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Rapid Changes in Ground Vegetation of Mature Boreal Forests-An Analysis of Swedish National Forest Inventory Data

Jonsson, Bengt Gunnar; Dahlgren, Jonas; Ekstrom, Magnus; Esseen, Per-Anders; Grafstrom, Anton; Stahl, Goran; Westerlund, Bertil


The boreal forest floor vegetation is critical for ecosystem functioning and an important part of forest biodiversity. Given the ongoing global change, knowledge on broad-scale changes in the composition and abundance of different plant species and species groups is hence important for both forest conservation and management. Here, we analyse permanent plot data from the National Forest Inventory (NFI) on changes in the vegetation over a 10-year period in four regions of Sweden. To limit the direct and relatively well-known effects of forest management and associated succession, we only included mature forest stands not influenced by forestry during the 10 years between inventories, and focused on vegetation change mainly related to other factors. Results show strong decrease among many species and species groups. This includes dominant species such as Vaccinimum myrtillus and Deschampsia flexuosa as well as several forest herbs. The only species increasing are some mosses in the southern regions. Our data do not allow for a causal interpretation of the observed patterns. However, the changes probably result from latent succession in combination with climate change and nitrogen deposition, and with time lags complicating the interpretation of their relative importance. Regardless of the cause, the observed changes are on a magnitude that suggest impacts on ecosystem functioning and hence highlight the need for more experimental work.


plants; lichens; mosses; climate change; nitrogen; succession; ecosystem function; biodiversity

Published in

2021, Volume: 12, number: 4, article number: 475
Publisher: MDPI