Edge influence on vegetation at natural and anthropogenic edges of boreal forests in Canada and Fennoscandia.
Karen Harper, Ellen MacDonald, Michael S. Mayerhofer, Shekhar R. Biswas, Per Anders Essen, Kristoffer Hylander, Katherine J. Stewart, Azim U. Mallik, Pierre Drapeau, Bengt-Gunnar Jonsson, Daniel Lesieur, Jari Kouki, Yves Bergeron.
1. Although anthropogenic edges are an important consequence of timber harvesting, edges due to natural disturbances or landscape heterogeneity are also common. Forest edges have been well-studied in temperate and tropical forests, but less so in less productive, disturbance-adapted boreal forests.
2. We synthesized data on forest vegetation at edges of boreal forests and compared edge influence among edge types (fire, cut, lake/wetland; old vs. young), forest types (broadleaf vs. coniferous) and geographic regions. Our objectives were to quantify vegetation responses at edges of all types and to compare the strength and extent of edge influence among different types of edges and forests.
3. Research was conducted using the same general sampling design in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and in Sweden and Finland. We conducted a meta-analysis for a variety of response variables including forest structure, deadwood abundance, regeneration, understorey abundance and diversity, and nonvascular plant cover. We also determined the magnitude and distance of edge influence using randomization tests.
4. Some edge responses (lower tree basal area, tree canopy and bryophyte cover; more logs; higher regeneration) were significant overall across studies. Edge influence on ground vegetation in boreal forests was generally weak, not very extensive (distance of edge influence usually < 20 m) and decreased with time. We found more extensive edge influence at natural edges, at younger edges and in broadleaf forests. The comparison among regions revealed weaker edge influence in Fennoscandian forests.
5. Synthesis. Edges created by forest harvesting do not appear to have as strong, extensive or persistent influence on vegetation in boreal as in tropical or temperate forested ecosystems. We attribute this apparent resistance to shorter canopy heights, inherent heterogeneity in boreal forests and their adaptation to frequent natural disturbance. Nevertheless, notable differences between forest structure responses to natural (fire) and anthropogenic (cut) edges raise concerns about biodiversity implications of extensive creation of anthropogenic edges. By highlighting universal responses to edge influence in boreal forests that are significant irrespective of edge or forest type, and those which vary by edge type, we provide a context for the conservation of boreal forests.