Current issue: 54(4)
Under compilation: 54(5)
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.