Forest exploitation has destructed forest habitats in Fennoscandia during last centuries. Vital components of existing forest biodiversity have been identified as small (a few ha) woodland key habitats (WKHs). Many WKHs in boreal forest landscapes are assumed to represent remnant near-natural forests from before the phase of industrial forest exploitation. Thus, WKHs are supposed to (i) exhibit a low degree of exploitation, (ii) have old-growth characteristics and (iii) host Red-list species. Yet, WKHs’ history and biodiversity have not been systematically investigated. Thus, their conservation values remain unclear. This study investigates history and biodiversity of 15 WKHs in central Sweden with retrospective methods and field studies. We analyze (1) forest structure before, during and after the forest exploitation period, (2) existing biodiversity, i.e. species and structural elements, and (3) to what extent human activities (forestry) have influenced current biodiversity. Our results indicate that forest structure within the areas that currently are classified as WKHs has changed dramatically since the mid-19th century, when forests were unaffected by logging. The results suggest that fire-suppression during last century, gradually increased logging until mid-20th century and abandonment by modern forestry during the late 20th century, are main causes behind this transformation. Less than 10% of studied WKHs had biological features that resembled those of pristine boreal forests. Thus, most studied WKHs cannot be classified as near-natural or remnants of pristine forest. We suggest that the program for WKHs give more focus to pre-industrial forest structure, local historical aspects being seriously regarded and ecological restoration efforts being introduced.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Mar 1, 2005
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