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Changing land use and increasing abundance of deer cause natural regeneration failure of oaks: Six decades of landscape-scale evidence

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift
Författare L. K. Petersson
P. Milberg
J. Bergstedt
J. Dahlgren
A. M. Felton
Frank Götmark
C. Salk
M. Lof
Publicerad i Forest Ecology and Management
Volym 444
Sidor 299-307
ISSN 0378-1127
Publiceringsår 2019
Publicerad vid Institutionen för biologi och miljövetenskap
Sidor 299-307
Språk en
Länkar dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.04...
Ämnesord Biodiversity, Deer abundance, Disturbance, Forest management, Land use change, Natural, bialowieza primeval forest, white-tailed deer, tree recruitment, stand, parameters, quercus-petraea, climate-change, sessile oak, dead wood, dynamics, management, Forestry
Ämneskategorier Biologiska vetenskaper


Many tree species worldwide are suffering from slow or failed natural regeneration with dramatic consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, it is difficult to disentangle the complex effects of factors influencing regeneration processes on long-lived tree species at large scales. In this study, we use long-term data from the Swedish National Forest Inventory (1953-2015) combined with deer hunting data (1960-2015) to reveal experimentally-intractable processes impeding oak (Quercus spp.) regeneration in southern Sweden. Oak-dominated ecosystems are widespread in northern temperate regions, where oaks are foundation species with disproportionate importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Our study reveals that during the last six decades, oak tree numbers and standing volume have continuously increased, while natural regeneration of oak declined steeply after the early 1980s. We connect this decline to denser and darker forests, combined with increased abundance of deer. Land use changes during the six decades, such as abandonment of traditional practices and large-scale introduction of forest management oriented towards high volume production, led to continuously denser forests and thereby reduced the oak regeneration niche. In addition, the impact of changed game management was evident. This was particularly clear from a natural experiment on Gotland, a large island free of deer until roe deer were introduced in the late 20th century, at which point oak regeneration began a steep decline. At the stand level, natural oak regeneration could be expected to mainly occur in pulses after disturbance events, followed by a period of low regeneration success as the cohort ages. However, at a landscape scale one would expect a mix of successional stages that would even out such demographic patterns. A prolonged period of low regeneration at a landscape scale will eventually lead to a large gap in the oak size distribution as was observed in this study. This could eventually hurt the many species dependent on old and large oak trees. Active management to restore the oak regeneration niche, i.e. forest habitats with more light and less browsing pressure, therefore seems essential. The latter includes developing strategies that manage both deer populations and their available food across landscapes. Our study is the first to link oak regeneration failure to long-term changes in land use and increased deer populations at a landscape scale in this region. Furthermore, our study show how historical data can clarify confounded processes impacting long-lived forest species.

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