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The effects of habitat edges and trampling on understorey vegetation in urban forests in Helsinki, Finland

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Question: How do habitat edges and trampling affect mesic (Myrtillus type) understorey vegetation in fragmented urban forests, and what are the relative strengths and spatial extent of these effects?

Location: The city of Helsinki, southern Finland.

Methods: Vegetation sample plots were placed at different distances from the forest edge. At each distance we selected plots on, next to and away from paths of different levels of wear, and the covers and frequencies of plant species were sampled. We used generalized linear mixed models and ordination techniques to test our hypotheses.

Results: The effect of the edge penetrated up to 50 m into the forest interior. Only light effects of trampling were found in seemingly untrampled areas, in addition to the direct effects of trampling on the paths. Both trampling and edge effects changed the forest understorey species composition. Trampling changed plant species composition locally on paths, and provided opportunities for new species to establish in previously unbroken forest vegetation. Urban forest edges were characterised by species better adapted to sunny, warm and dry conditions. These species, such as grasses, replaced more sensitive forest species, such as dwarf shrubs and mosses. We observed a large number of light demanding deciduous trees at the edges, which may be one of the factors increasing soil fertility and consequently promoting the high abundance of fast growing species, such as grasses and herbs related to more fertile site types.

Conclusions: We recommend that urban forest fragments left within urban development should be at least 2-3 ha in size and that the shape of the patch and the number of potential recreational users should be taken into account when preserving true forest understorey vegetation from the effects of edges and trampling.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 2008

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