At What Scales and Why Does Forest Structure Vary in Naturally Dynamic Boreal Forests? An Analysis of Forest Landscapes on Two Continents

Abstract

Identifying the scales of variation in forest structures and the underlying processes are fundamental for understanding forest dynamics. Here, we studied these scale-dependencies in forest structure in naturally dynamic boreal forests on two continents. We identified the spatial scales at which forest structures varied, and analyzed how the scales of variation and the underlying drivers differed among the regions and at particular scales. We studied three 2 km × 2 km landscapes in northeastern Finland and two in eastern Canada. We estimated canopy cover in contiguous 0.1-ha cells from aerial photographs and used scale-derivative analysis to identify characteristic scales of variation in the canopy cover data. We analyzed the patterns of variation at these scales using Bayesian scale space analysis. We identified structural variation at three spatial scales in each landscape. Among landscapes, the largest scale of variation showed the greatest variability (20.1–321.4 ha), related to topography, soil variability, and long-term disturbance history. Superimposed on this large-scale variation, forest structure varied at similar scales (1.3–2.8 ha) in all landscapes. This variation correlated with recent disturbances, soil variability, and topographic position. We also detected intense variation at the smallest scale analyzed (0.1 ha, grain of our data), partly driven by recent disturbances. The distinct scales of variation indicated hierarchical structure in the landscapes studied. Except for the large-scale variation, these scales were remarkably similar among the landscapes. This suggests that boreal forests may display characteristic scales of variation that occur somewhat independent of the tree species characteristics or the disturbance regime.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Jacques Duval (Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife) for the aerial photographs and digital elevation models for the Quebecois landscapes, Jussi Lammi and Pasi Myllyniemi (EspaSystems Ltd.), and Ilkka Korpela for support in the stereointerpretation. Antti Ahokas, Nora Arnkil, Stéphane Bourassa, Tapio Kara, Yasuhiro Kubota, Toshihide Hirao, Paavo Ojanen, Maxime Tremblay, and Annukka Valkeapää are thanked for assistance in the field. The project was funded by the Academy of Finland (Project Nos. 252629, 276022), Emil Aaltonen Foundation, and the University of Helsinki Funds.

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Correspondence to Niko Kulha.

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Author Contributions TA designed the study. NK interpreted the aerial photographs, and TA, TK, and LD collected the field data. LP and LH developed the analysis methods, and LP and NK conducted the analyses. NK, LP, and TA wrote the first draft of the paper, and all authors contributed to writing the final version.

Data availability: Calibration data, and the calibrated raster maps of canopy cover produced in this study will be made available in Figshare at https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-018-0297-2.

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Kulha, N., Pasanen, L., Holmström, L. et al. At What Scales and Why Does Forest Structure Vary in Naturally Dynamic Boreal Forests? An Analysis of Forest Landscapes on Two Continents. Ecosystems 22, 709–724 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-018-0297-2

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Key words

  • forest dynamics
  • canopy cover
  • aerial photography
  • Bayesian inference
  • Eastern Canada
  • Northern Fennoscandia