Landscape context affects the success of habitat restoration: large-scale colonization patterns of saproxylic and fire-associated species in boreal forests



Aim  Restoration of habitats may be used as a conservation tool when ecosystems have lost their natural structure, dynamics or functioning over large areas. Controlled and planned use of fire could be an effective way to restore habitats of many threatened species in boreal forests where fire suppression has been effective. We asked whether the large-scale landscape context affects the occurrence of rare and threatened species in forest habitats that have been burned to restore their fire-related structures.

Location  Boreal forests in southern Finland.

Methods  We designed a large-scale field experiment that included nine Pinus sylvestris forests (5–10 ha each) in southern Finland. Sites were located in two regions: (1) in eastern region with shorter management history and (2) in western region where intensive forestry has continued longer. We evaluated whether restoration of dead/burned wood is beneficial for rare and conservation-dependent species and measured the recovery of pyrophilous and red-listed insects (beetles and flatbugs) in burned forests, using standardized sampling effort. Altogether, 956 individuals of 29 red-listed and pyrophilous species were sampled.

Results  Rare species colonized areas quickly, but there was a clear difference in species richness between the regions. The eastern forests harboured higher species richness after restoration. In these sites, the average species richness was 13.7 species per site, whereas in western forests it was 5.0 species per site. Similar pattern was also observed in subgroups: the corresponding numbers for pyrophilous species were 9.7 vs. 3.8, for red-listed 8.7 vs. 2.3 and for red-listed pyrophiles 4.7 vs. 1.2.

Main conclusions  Introducing fire back to boreal forests can aid in the recovery of rare species, but the landscape context considerably affects the success of restoring species. If restored habitats are located in landscapes that have lost their natural properties long ago, the success of restoration seems to be more challenging than in landscapes where habitats have been modified more recently.