Skip to content
Main menu hidden.

Image: Ryan Sponseller

The spruce-buffer syndrome: should we prioritize deciduous trees in riparian buffer zones of boreal streams?

Research project is financed by Formas.

The goal is to test the influence of prioritizing deciduous trees in the riparian zones along boreal streams. Research will explore how ‘deciduousness’ influences water quality, stream ecosystem processes, and aquatic food webs.

Head of project

Ryan Sponseller
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2022-01-01 2024-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Ecology and Environmental Science

Research area

Ecology, Environmental sciences

External funding


Project description

Riparian zones along watercourses are one of our most important tools for reducing the unwanted environmental effects of land use on freshwater ecosystems.  Protection zones filter nutrients and sediments, regulate the physical conditions in watercourses and contribute organic material that supports the food web of aquatic organisms.

Nevertheless, the effectiveness of protection zones varies depending on how they are designed. For a long time, a number of authorities and industrial actors have worked with various proposals for improved protection function by prioritizing a larger number of deciduous trees (for example birch) along our watercourses. Although there may be good reasons for increasing the leaf cover along watercourses, there is a completely missing systematic test that has evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of such measures in the Swedish forest landscape. Without such evidence, it is difficult to pursue clear scientific recommendations to industrial and private landowners.

To promote better protection zone management in the forest landscape, we will use a series of observational and experimental approaches to test how different deciduous trees may affect nitrogen retention in the soil-water interface, possibly improve a range of ecosystem processes and promote more productive aquatic environments. As an important part of our work, a synthesis of our results will be used to inform how protection zones should best be designed in the Swedish forest landscape.

External funding

Latest update: 2022-02-08