Protected Areas in Northern Fennoscandia

Finland is situated on the western margin of the large coniferous forest – the taiga – that extends across the whole of northern Russia. The western parts of the taiga belt are relatively intact on the Russian side of the border, with a diverse tree species composition and a high diversity of animals. On the Finnish side, by contrast, large areas especially in southern and central Finland are commercial forests, which are mostly monocultures of even-aged trees.

The effects of these differences are large. Species that prefer large, intact forest areas, including wolf, brown bear, wolverine, lynx, capercaillie, hazelgrouse, and pine marten, are found in much higher densities on the Russian side. Species favored by early successional stages, such as moose and mountain hare, are more abundant on the Finnish side. The Russian forests also host a higher number of rare, wood-inhabiting invertebrates than do the forests in Finland. Birds such as the Siberian jay, the Siberian tit, and the three-toed woodpecker are specialized for old-growth coniferous forests. They have declined markedly in Finland in recent decades due to the impacts of large-scale forestry, and find refuge only in the remaining old-growth taiga forests. See map of protected areas.

In addition to commercial forests, Finland has a large, relatively continuous belt of protected areas that connects with protected areas in the mountains of Norway and Sweden. These areas are important habitat for taiga species in Fennoscandia. They serve as a corridor for gene exchange, and allow recolonization of habitats in the case of local extinctions. The wolf population of northern Finland, for example, dependslargely on animals moving in from Russia. Lower plants and animals also exchange genes over large areas, andcan suffer from genetic isolation. For instance, a study of the genetic structure of Fomitopsis rosea, a rare polyporous wood inhabiting fungus, shows that isolated populations in southern Sweden have a narrower genetic structure than populations within continuous taiga forests of Russia. The connection of Fennoscandian taiga to the larger taiga of Russia, and the protection of large intact forests in western Russia, are vital for the long-term survival of Fennoscandian taiga species. A joint Finnish-Russian effort strives to maintain this connection by establishing a network of protected areas that extends across the border.

Anna-Liisa Sippola, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland,
Rovaniemi, Finland. From CAFF publication: Arctic Flora and Fauna