, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 508–520 | Cite as

Intensive land use in the Swedish mountains between AD 800 and 1200 led to deforestation and ecosystem transformation with long-lasting effects

  • Lars Östlund
  • Greger Hörnberg
  • Thomas H. DeLuca
  • Lars Liedgren
  • Peder Wikström
  • Olle Zackrisson
  • Torbjörn Josefsson


Anthropogenic deforestation has shaped ecosystems worldwide. In subarctic ecosystems, primarily inhabited by native peoples, deforestation is generally considered to be mainly associated with the industrial period. Here we examined mechanisms underlying deforestation a thousand years ago in a high-mountain valley with settlement artifacts located in subarctic Scandinavia. Using the Heureka Forestry Decision Support System, we modeled pre-settlement conditions and effects of tree cutting on forest cover. To examine lack of regeneration and present nutrient status, we analyzed soil nitrogen. We found that tree cutting could have deforested the valley within some hundred years. Overexploitation left the soil depleted beyond the capacity of re-establishment of trees. We suggest that pre-historical deforestation has occurred also in subarctic ecosystems and that ecosystem boundaries were especially vulnerable to this process. This study improves our understanding of mechanisms behind human-induced ecosystem transformations and tree-line changes, and of the concept of wilderness in the Scandinavian mountain range.


Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii Forest history Indigenous Modeling Simulation Vegetation change 



We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for useful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The English has been corrected by Sees-Editing, UK. This study was financially supported by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund and the Swedish Environmental Protection agency and their Mountain Research Program.

Supplementary material

13280_2015_634_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (60 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 61 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lars Östlund
    • 1
  • Greger Hörnberg
    • 2
  • Thomas H. DeLuca
    • 2
    • 3
  • Lars Liedgren
    • 2
  • Peder Wikström
    • 4
  • Olle Zackrisson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Torbjörn Josefsson
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden
  2. 2.Institute for Subarctic Landscape ResearchThe Silver MuseumArjeplogSweden
  3. 3.School of Environmental and Forest SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Peder Wikström Skogsanalys ABUmeåSweden
  5. 5.Sweden Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden

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