Biodiversity in fragmented boreal forests assessing the past, the present and the future

Abstract: The aims of this thesis are to (1) analyze the predictability (indicators) of plant and fungal species diversity in old-growth forests, and (2) assess the history and biodiversity of woodland key habitats (WKHs) and their potential to maintain species diversity in fragmented boreal forest landscapes. Predictability was explored in Granlandet nature reserve, an unexploited landscape composed of discrete old-growth Picea forest patches of varying size isolated by wetland, reflecting conditions of insular biota at stochastic equilibrium. Data from 46 patches (0.2-12 ha) showed that most species were rare. However, species richness and composition patterns exhibited a high degree of predictability, which strengthen the possibility to apply biodiversity indicators in old-growth forest stands. Area was a key factor. The increase in species richness starts to level out at 2-3 ha. Large patches host more Red-list species in their interiors than do small ones, i.e. stand size is an important qualitative aspect of old-growth habitat. Nestedness emerged in relation to area but also in equal-sized plots. Structural complexity and habitat quality were important for species richness and compositional patterns, and small habitats of high quality could harbor many rare species. Monitoring of wood-fungi on downed logs showed that species diversity on downed logs changed over periods of 5-10 years and that the occurrences of annual species were unpredictable. It is suggested that monitoring of species with durable fruit bodies (mainly polypores) is likely to be a feasible approach to obtain comparable data over time.Assessments of biodiversity of WKHs were performed in two areas with contrasting histories of forest exploitation, namely in south boreal and north boreal Sweden. Analyses of the history of 15 south boreal WKHs showed that fire-suppression, selective logging until mid-20th century and abandonment by modern forestry has shaped their forest structure. These WKHs are not untouched forests, they lack key structural components and harbor few Red-list species. Artificial interventions to restore natural processes and patterns are needed to further increase their suitability for threatned species. Modeling analyses of species richness in 32 WKHs in north boreal Sweden, some of which have not been isolated by modern forestry until recently, indicated an excess of crustose lichen species, i.e. WKHs may face delayed species extinctions. By contrast, the results indicate that wood-fungi have tracked the environmental changes. Differences in substrate dynamics between epiphytes on living trees and species growing on decaying logs may explain the diffeence between species groups. The results indicate that population densities of Red-list species were low, which may result in further depletion of species diversity.Continuing species declines and extinctions are likely if not conservation of WKHs are combined with other considerations in th managed forest landscape. Both WKHs and their surroundings must be managed and designed to maintain biodiversity over time. For a successful future conservation of boreal forest biodiversity monitoring of WKHs must be combined with monitoring of refeence areas.