Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 1271–1285 | Cite as

Size of nature reserves: densities of large trees and dead wood indicate high value of small conservation forests in southern Sweden

  • Frank GötmarkEmail author
  • Maria Thorell


The optimal size of nature reserves has been debated for some time. Although edge and core habitats are often recognized, it is commonly assumed in theory and in studies of a particular habitat type that reserves or patches of different sizes have similar habitat structure. However, for older, highly fragmented landscapes it has been suggested that small areas are of conservation interest as high-quality remnants, whereas large areas are more degraded. We studied 49 randomly selected forest reserves in the size range 5–230 ha (typical for many highly fragmented landscapes) and 3653 sites of key habitat (unprotected deciduous broadleaf forest). Structures in forest that are generally correlated with value for biodiversity were measured, and reserve objectives were examined from declaration texts. Both the density of large trees and the density of dead wood (snags, logs) decreased with increasing reserve size. The mean size of identified key habitats was very small (1.6 ha). A botanical objective for establishment of reserves was more frequently used for smaller reserves. In contrast, cultural and especially recreational objectives were more commonly used when larger reserves were established, suggesting higher values for recreation in these reserves. For vascular plants, birds and beetles, a literature review indicated that small forest patches do not contain impoverished communities, but are often rich (per unit of area). Small reserves and key habitats have several disadvantages, but they are probably important components of reserve networks for biodiversity in highly fragmented landscapes.

Conservation strategy Dead wood Forest Large trees Reserve size 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of GöteborgGöteborgSweden

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