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Keywords:

  • Avenella flexuosa ;
  • Boreal forest;
  • Forest management;
  • Forest understorey vegetation;
  • Vaccinium myrtillus

Abstract

Question

Does the abundance of keystone forest floor species change in response to changes in the forest structure?

Location

Sweden

Methods

We used data from the Swedish National Forest Inventory to investigate changes in the abundance of three common species, as well as the total abundance of all understorey vascular plants (the field layer) in forests in the boreal and temperate parts of Sweden. GLMs and GAMs were used to relate species abundance and temporal changes in abundances to forest structure and forest structural change.

Results

Productivity, measured as the site index, was the most important determinant of individual species' abundance. The volume of Picea abies, the density of tree stems and forest age were among the most important forest structural variables. We found that the dwarf shrub Vaccinium myrtillus, the narrow-leaved grasses (mainly Avenella flexuosa) and the total field layer cover decreased in boreal Sweden from 1994 through 2010 and that these changes coincided with an increase in forest density and with a reduction in forest age.

Conclusions

Changes in Swedish forests to higher tree layer density and younger age appear to contribute significantly to current changes in forest floor vegetation. The use of more intensive thinning practices to reduce the total density of the forest and to increase the proportion of broad-leaved tree species and Pinus sylvestris would favour the forest floor species in this study. Moreover, increasing forest age (i.e. the length of rotation periods) might favour V. myrtillus in particular, for which the time since disturbance is important for the recovery of pre-disturbance abundance. However, increased thinning intensity and forest age will reduce the potential for wood production, implying a trade-off between production of wood and maintenance of well-developed forest floor vegetation.