Current issue: 53(4)
Passive rewildening of forest ecosystems is commonly used for rehabilitating degraded habitats closer to their natural origin in addition to costly active restoration measures. However, it is not clear if passive processes are effective and how long the recovery of main ecosystem properties takes. We investigate the recovery of forest soil and tree stand characteristics a century after cessation of slash-and-burn cultivation, a major historical intensive disturbance regime that was applied widely in boreal zone of Finland until late 1800s. We systematically sampled soil and tree stand parameters within former slash-and-burn and nearby control areas. Humus layer thickness and soil organic matter (SOM) stocks were still lower in the historical slash-and-burn than in control areas. Slash-and-burn areas also had a larger volume of live birch trees and a higher standing dead wood volume than control areas. Accordingly, organic matter (humus layer thickness and SOM stocks) correlated negatively with birch standing live tree volume. Combined OM stock in humus and uppermost 10 cm mineral soil layer was positively correlated with lying dead wood volume. Overall, we observed clear recovery of several natural properties but we also found that a century after cessation of frequent anthropogenic burnings, clear legacies of disturbance in the above- and below-ground parts of boreal ecosystem were evident. Our results indicate that if only passive rewildening is applied as a restoration measure, the full recovery of boreal forest is slow and the effects of historical land-use may persist for over hundred years in soil and tree properties.
Forest ecological restoration by burning is widely applied to promote natural, early-successional sites and increase landscape biodiversity. Burning is also used as a forest management practice to facilitate forest regeneration after clearcutting. Besides the desired goals, restoration burnings also affect soil biogeochemistry, particularly soil organic matter (SOM) and related soil carbon stocks but the long-term effects are poorly understood. However, in order to study these effects, a reliable estimate of spatial variability is first needed for effective sampling. Here we investigate spatial variability of SOM and vegetation features 13 years after burnings and in combination with variable harvest levels. We sampled four experimental sites representing distinct management and restoration treatments with an undisturbed control. While variability of vegetation cover and biomass was generally higher in disturbed sites, soil parameter variability was not different between the four sites. The joint ecological patterns of soil and vegetation parameters across the whole sample continuum support well the prior assumptions on the characteristic disturbance conditions within each of the study sites. We designed and employed statistical simulations as a means to plan prospective sampling. Sampling six forest sites for each treatment type with 30 independent soil cores per site would provide enough statistical power to adequately capture the impacts of burning on SOM based on the data we obtained here and statistical simulations. In conclusion, we argue that an informed design-based approach to documenting the ecosystem effects of forest burnings is worth applying both through obtaining new data and meta-analysing the existing.