Motive Project

Article alert: Replacing coniferous monocultures with mixed-species production stands - An assessment of the potential benefits for forest biodiversity in northern Europe

by: Ulla Vänttinen

Felton, A., Lindbladh, M., Brunet, J., Fritz, O., 2010. Replacing coniferous monocultures with mixed-species production stands: An assessment of the potential benefits for forest biodiversity in northern Europe. Forest Ecology and Management 260(6): 939-947

Conifer dominated plantations in central and northern Europe are associated with relatively low ecological values, and in some cases, may be vulnerable to disturbances caused by anthropogenic climate change. This has prompted the consideration of alternative tree species compositions for use in production forestry in this region. Here we evaluate the likely biodiversity costs and benefits of supplanting Norway spruce (Picea abies) monocultures with polycultures of spruce and birch (Betula spp.) in southern Sweden. This polyculture alternative has previously been evaluated in terms of economic, recreational, and silvicultural benefits. By also assessing the ecological implications we fill a gap in our understanding of the range of socio-ecological benefits that can be achieved from a single polyculture alternative. We project likely broad scale changes to species richness and abundance within production stands for five taxonomic groups including ground vegetation, tree-living bryophytes, lichens, saproxylic beetles, and birds. Our research leads us to three key findings. First, the replacement of spruce monocultures with spruce-birch polycultures in the managed forest landscapes of southern Sweden can be expected to result in an increase in biological diversity for most but not all taxa assessed, but it is unlikely to improve conditions for many red-listed forest species. Second, modification of other aspects of forest management (i.e. rotation length, dead wood and green tree retention, thinning regimes) is likely to contribute to further biodiversity gains using spruce-birch polycultures than spruce monocultures. Third, the paucity of empirical research which directly compares the biodiversity of different types of managed production stands, limits the extent to which policy relevant conclusions can be extracted from the scientific literature. We discuss the wider implications of our findings, which indicate that some climate change adaptation strategies, such as risk-spreading, can be readily integrated with the economic, environmental and social goals of multi-use forestry.

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