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Close anthropogenic control of Fagus sylvatica establishment and expansion in a Swedish protected landscape – implications for forest history and conservation

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Abstract Aim 

 The dominant forces behind the expansion of Fagus sylvatica (beech) in northern Europe during the late Holocene have been much debated. Palaeoecological analyses were performed for a biodiversity hotspot reserve in order to study the processes behind the local establishment of Fagus, as well as the historical vegetational development in relation to present-day biodiversity and conservation. Location 

Biskopstorp Forest Reserve in south-west Sweden. Methods 

Pollen and charcoal were analysed from three small-hollow sites in the reserve. Two of the investigated wetlands were located adjacent to old-growth stands of Fagus, and the third was located near a stand of old Quercus. Results 

The 2500-year record shows that Fagus was first established around the two Fagus old-growth sites, c. ad900 and 1200, respectively, and that this was followed by an expansion aroundad1600. During the establishment phase, and more so in the expansion phase, there were simultaneous increases in types of pollen indicative of human activity. These indicators are also frequent throughout the record from the Quercus site, but here Fagus never became common. Main conclusions 

The dynamics behind the establishment and expansion of Fagus in the reserve seems to have been influenced to a large degree by human activity, for example selective cutting, human-induced fires, and agriculture. Fagus became established in the reserve more than 1000 years after it became established regionally, making climate less probable as the dominant force behind the species’ stand-scale establishment. The spreading of Fagus across southern Scandinavia has previously been shown to be a patchy process in time and space. Our study suggests that this patchiness is evident also at a small spatial scale (a few kilometres). At the Quercus site, relatively high amounts of pollen from the field layer throughout the record indicate open conditions that probably favoured Quercus. The degree of human impact at this site was probably too high to allow the expansion of Fagus. With the long-term perspective provided by our study it was possible to identify the last 200–300 years as an unrepresentative period with respect to tree species composition and forest dynamics. The large increase of Picea locally and regionally over the last several hundred years, combined with dramatic levels of human impact, have altered the tree composition and forest dynamics to such an extent that active management is necessary in order to maintain biodiversity in the reserve.
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Keywords: Beech; Quercus; Sweden; charcoal analysis; ecological base-line; forest fire; human impacts; long-term ecology; palaeoecology; pollen analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre, SLU – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 49, 230 53 Alnarp, Sweden 2: Viscum Pollen Analysis & Environmental History, Snorres väg 113, 224 74 Lund, Sweden 3: Polish Academy of Sciences, Mammal Research Institute 17-230, Białowieża, Poland

Publication date: 2008-04-01

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