Swedish forest ecosystem management

Essentially, well-managed woodlands and forests are an important renewable resource. They produce vital raw materials, while creating minimal waste and energy use. When rich in species, diversity and habitat, forests make a positive contribution towards increased ecosystem stability. Properly managed forests absorb the effects of disturbances and unwanted depositions. They help to prevent soil erosion, degradation and maintain stable nutrient and energy cycles, so neighbouring ecosystems are protected. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, forests provide invaluable recreation opportunities and they contribute to the economic and social stability of rural communities.

Sweden’s forests are managed for biological diversity, conservation and timber production. A subtle shift towards ecosystems management has been quietly under way for some time now. This approach to multi-functional forest management is an ecological perspective that uses the principles of the dynamic equilibrium of primary and secondary production, elasticity, stability and ecosystem diversity. These values are at the heart of forest ecosystem management in Sweden and worldwide.

SLU – Department of Forest Ecology and Management

Sweden’s SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Science) has its own department to oversee matters relating to forest ecosystem management. Established in January 2007, The Department of Forest Ecology and Management was created by a merger of three existing departments; Ecology and Silviculture, Forest Vegetation Ecology and Forest Ecology. Now consisting of around 90 staff, including 14 professors, they have access to ground-breaking field studies and technical facilities. This is a solid foundation for all research concerning the management and dynamics of forest ecosystems. The department makes a highly valued contribution to Sweden’s forest industry.

The Department of Forest Ecology and Management have conducted studies and carried out extensive research in the following areas:

  • Forest Soils
  • Forest Landscape Biogeochemistry
  • Forest Vegetation and Ecology
  • Forest History
  • Tropical Forestry
  • Silviculture
  • Forest Growth and Yield
  • Forest Regeneration
  • Ecophysiology

For a deeper understanding of the research conducted by the Department of Forest Ecology and Management and forest ecosystem management it is useful to take a closer look at their research.

Forest Regeneration Research

This research aims to gain a better understanding of forest regeneration in Sweden’s Boreal forests, and the fundamental processes underlying this regeneration. Other desired outcomes of this research include gaining a more comprehensive understanding of controlling factors that may limit the performance of seeds and seedlings in managed and natural forests. The nature of unde rstory vegetation such as lichens, mosses and ericaceous dwarf shrubs, natural and anthropogenic disturbance and feedbacks and interactions between the growth of seedlings are some of the primary areas of interest.

Ultimately, The Department of Forest Ecology and Management hopes that its research in this area will produce valuable data that can be of practical use in terms of forestry and forest management. The aim is to gain deeper insights into how forest resources can be used sustainably.

Forest Growth and Yield Research

The overarching goal of research in this area is in yield and growth with the aim of quantifying wood and timber production under various conditions. The soil and climate of sites, genotypes of plants and tree species, as well as stand types including old-growth forests and plantations, are examples of such conditions.

Studies and surveys of these types, experimental studies and long-term field experiments make up the majority of research in this area, but simulations and models are also used.

The results form the basis for future decisions about silviculture and estimate the properties and quantity of wood production, leading to a greater understanding of tree growth and stand dynamics.

Forest and Health Research Program

The Department of Forest Ecology and Management are currently conducting innovative research in a variety of connected areas and this includes the ‘Forest and Health’ thematic research program. This fascinating research program in short, examines whether a link exists between human health and nature. Does being in a forest environment have an effect on Human health? If so, how?

This research area is a new addition to the SLU’s Faculty of Forest Sciences. Researchers Ylva Lundell and Ann Dolling are leading the program, while projects are being coordinated by graduate students Patrik Umaerus and Elisabet Sonntag-Öström and also Magnus Wilhelmsson, who is an experienced forester.

What makes the ‘Forest and Health’ research program all the more interesting is the fact that this interdisciplinary program that also works closely with the University Hospital of Umeå’s Stress Clinic, Department of Psychology and the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine. Physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors and others will be contributing to this research program which is being funded by the SLU, governmental organisations and NGO’s.

Future Forests Research Program

The ‘Future Forests’ research program is another of the several current research programs being carried out by the Department of Forest Ecology and Management. Globalisation, increased consumption and climate change all mean that more pressure is placed upon forest resources. As the population grows, forestry will inevitably need to be intensified in order to produce more energy, paper and timber. However, it is also essential to ensure that ecosystem services such as recreation and biological diversity are protected at the same time. This will undoubtedly lead to some difficult decisions having to be made in the future, in order to balance these conflicting demands.

The Future Forests program examines these issues from a long-term perspective. The goal of the study is to provide the knowledge and tools for subsequent generations to manage future forests more effectively.

This interdisciplinary program uses the approach of combining synthesis work, scenario analysis, modelling and empirical research in order to produce world-class science and applications. In the long-term, the aim of the program is to build a platform where researchers from a variety of disciplines including humanities, political science, ecology, forest management and other practitioners from different sectors can collaborate and interact.

This study was initially set to run from 2009 to 2012, but a 4 year extension is a possibility. The annual budget so far has been in excess of 40 million SEK and it has been funded by the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, also known as MISTRA, involved research institutions and the Swedish forest industry.

There is no doubt that forest ecosystem management has a huge part to play in Swedish forests and the Department of Forest Ecology and Management at SLU has so far made a huge contribution to this new approach to multi-functional forest management. They aim to ensure the present and future sustainability and success of some of Sweden’s most precious natural resources.