Hemiboreal forest: natural disturbances and the importance of ecosystem legacies to management
The condition of forest ecosystems depends on the temporal and spatial pattern of management interventions and natural disturbances. Remnants of previous conditions persisting after disturbances, or ecosystem legacies, collectively comprise ecosystem memory. Ecosystem memory in turn contributes to resilience and possibilities of ecosystem reorganization following further disturbance. Understanding the role of disturbance and legacies is a prerequisite for maintaining resilience in the face of global change. Several legacy concepts discussed in the peer-reviewed literature, including disturbance, biological, soil, land-use, and silvicultural legacies, overlap in complex ways. Here, we review these established legacy concepts and propose that the new terms “material legacy” (individuals or matter, e.g., survivors, coarse woody debris, nutrients left after disturbance) and “information legacy” (adaptations to historical disturbance regimes) cut across these previous concepts and lead to a new classification of legacies. This includes six categories: material legacies with above- and belowground, and biotic and abiotic categories, and information legacies with above- and belowground categories. These six legacies are influenced by differential patterns of editing and conditioning by “legacy syndromes” that result from natural or human-manipulated disturbance regimes that can be arranged along a gradient of naturalness. This scheme is applied to a case study of hemiboreal forests in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where natural disturbance, traditional clearcut silviculture, and afforestation of abandoned agricultural lands constitute the three main legacy syndromes. These legacy syndromes in turn influence forest response to management actions and constrain resilience, leading to a mosaic of natural, manipulated, and artificial (novel) ecosystems across the landscape, depending on how the legacies in each syndrome affect ecological memory.