BIODIVERSITY IN BOREAL FORESTS



Professor Ilkka Hanski



Summary

Finnish economy continues to be largely based on forestry, and most of the forested land is under intensive management. The area of the remaining old-growth forest is much less than 1% in southern Finland and the extent of old-growth has become drastically reduced in the north in recent decades. Populations of numerous forest-dwelling species have declined or the species have already gone locally extinct. At present, there is an urgent need to develop forestry practices that help maintain biodiversity and natural forest functions in managed forests. There is also a need to assess how effectively the current conservation areas protect the species they are supposed to protect.

The Forest and Park Service has recently initiated landscape ecological forest planning of state-owned forests. These plans, which are typically designed for regions of 10,000 to 50,000 ha, carry the promise of becoming an important tool for sustainable forestry. Unfortunately, the ecological knowledge on which these plans can presently be based is fragmentary and limited. The primary aim of this project, therefore, is to increase our understanding of the ecology and dynamics of forest-dwelling species in boreal forests, and thereby introduce the presently lacking element of population biology and ecology into the landscape ecological planning of forestry.

We have structured this project into five distinct tasks with their own responsible principal investigators. The first three tasks are focused on particular empirical research questions:

  • Population biology of the trembling aspen (Populus tremula) and the taxa associated with it in boreal forests
  • The significance of reserve networks, ecological corridors, stepping stones, and source-sink dynamics in maintaining biodiversity in boreal forests
  • Landscape ecology in highly fragmented boreal forests

Taken together, these three tasks cover much of the ecology and population biology that we consider to be most relevant for landscape ecological planning in boreal forestry. The fourth task consists of mathematical modelling of the empirical results, with the aim of providing a common scientific framework for synthetizing our knowledge, for relating it to ecological theory, and for generating practical tools for forestry and conservation. The fifth task has a special function. We will employ here a more experienced ecologist familiar with forest ecology, forestry and conservation. The responsibility of this person is to feed the practical needs of forestry and conservation into this project, and to facilitate the distribution of its results back to forestry and conservation.