Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Geography, Biodiversity and Wildlife of Sweden and Their Conservation

The wildlife of Sweden includes the diverse flora and fauna of Sweden. Habitats include mountain heath, montane forests, tundra, taiga, beech forests, rivers, lakes, bogs, brackish and marine coasts and cultivated land. The climate is in general very mild for a country at this latitude, because of the significant maritime influence.

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Sweden is a land of incredible natural beauty and diversity, with vast landscapes that are home to a wide array of flora and fauna. The country’s geography and climate offer a unique range of habitats, from rugged mountain heaths to lush beech forests, winding rivers, and vast tundras. This has created a rich tapestry of biodiversity and wildlife that is unparalleled in the region.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating geography, biodiversity, and wildlife of Sweden, examining the many unique features that make this country a treasure trove for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. We will delve into the different regions of Sweden, examining their distinct landscapes and the creatures that call them home. From the rugged and wild northern regions to the gentle southern countryside, we will discuss the many wonders of Sweden’s natural world.

Sweden topography
Sweden topography

Geography of Sweden: From Mountains to Plains and Islands

Sweden is a long country that stretches from 55°N to more than 70°N, extending east of Norway and west of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. It has a highly indented coastline with numerous small islands, including Gotland and Öland, two larger islands in the Baltic Sea. Lakes are also abundant, with Vänern being the third largest lake in Europe.

Northern and central Sweden, roughly north of the large river Dalälven, make up the Norrland terrain, which is characterized by large barren areas of hilly and mountainous land that gradually rise from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Scandinavian mountains. These mountains, mostly around 1000 m, form the border with Norway in the north. The tallest mountain in Sweden and northern Scandinavia, Kebnekaise, reaches 2100 m. The geology of the Scandes is quite diverse, often reflected in differences in the flora.

South of Dalälven is a low-lying area that surrounds the large lakes Mälaren and Hjälmaren, characterized by clayey, fertile soils that are one of the main agricultural regions in Sweden. To the south, there are some minor hilly and barren areas such as Tiveden. East and west of lake Vättern are intensively cultivated plains on sedimentary rock. To the south of this region, the land rises again to the South Swedish highlands, a terrain of mostly barren hills reaching 377 m. The southernmost province of Scania differs from the rest of Sweden in consisting almost entirely of flat, arable land and also in its complex geology that includes mesozoic rocks and abrasion coasts.

Most of Sweden consists of gneiss and granite, forming an archipelago of fairly small, bare, rounded rocks known as “skärgård,” particularly around Stockholm and the North part of the west coast. The Baltic islands of Öland and Gotland consist almost entirely of Ordovician and Silurian limestone, respectively.

In summary, Sweden’s geography comprises mountains, hills, plains, and islands with diverse geology, flora, and fauna. The Norrland terrain, South Swedish highlands, and Scania are some of the distinct regions that make up the country’s landscape.

Sweden’s Climate: Three Regions with Few Temperature Extremes

Despite its northerly location, Sweden generally has a temperate climate with few temperature extremes. The country’s climate can be divided into three regions: the northernmost part has a subarctic climate, the central part a humid continental climate, and the southernmost part an oceanic climate.

The combination of the Gulf Stream and the general westerly direction of the wind makes Sweden much warmer and drier than other places at a similar latitude. The northern half of the country receives less rainfall than Norway because of the rain shadow effect created by the Scandinavian Mountains.

During summer, temperatures in southern Sweden typically range from 20-25°C, while winter temperatures average around -1 to -5°C. In the central and northern parts of the country, summer temperatures average around 16°C and 10°C, respectively, while winter temperatures range from around -8°C to -15°C.

Despite the relatively mild climate, snowfall is common in Sweden during winter, especially in the northern parts. In fact, the mountainous areas of the north offer excellent skiing opportunities during the winter months.

Overall, Sweden’s climate, though diverse across its three regions, offers few temperature extremes, making it a pleasant place to visit and live.

Sweden’s Terrestrial Biodiversity and Forest Landscape Integrity

Sweden is home to a diverse range of animal and plant species, with an estimated 50,000 species found in its terrestrial habitats. This represents 32% of the total species found in Europe. Among these are 73 mammal species, around 240 breeding bird species, 6 species of reptile, 12 species of amphibian, 56 species of freshwater fish, close to 2000 species of vascular plant, almost 1000 bryophyte species, and over 2000 lichen species.

Forests cover around 63% of Sweden’s land area, making them a crucial habitat for many of the country’s species. However, the country has faced challenges in maintaining the integrity of its forest landscapes. In 2019, Sweden had a Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.35/10, which ranked it 103rd globally out of 172 countries. This index measures the degree to which a country’s forest landscapes are fragmented or degraded, with higher scores indicating greater integrity.

Despite these challenges, Sweden has implemented measures to protect its biodiversity, including designating protected areas and implementing sustainable forest management practices. The country is also actively involved in international efforts to conserve biodiversity and combat climate change, including through the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Paris Agreement.

Flora and Vegetation of Sweden: From Southern Deciduous Forests to Northern Coniferous Forests and Tundra

Mountain birch near the treeline
Mountain birch near the treeline

Sweden’s vegetation is diverse, ranging from deciduous forests in the south to coniferous forests in the north and tundra in the mountainous regions. Skåne and a narrow strip along the west coast belong to the nemoral zone where beech is the dominant tree species. Oak forests occur on poor soils, while forest of alder, ash, and elm grow in nutrient-rich, often wet soil. Most of Sweden below the mountains is covered by conifer forest, and deciduous trees are rare in the boreal (taiga) zone. The four native conifers in Sweden are Norway spruce and Scots pine, which form forests in pure or mixed stands. The mountains have birch forests, and the tree-line is replaced by willow-thickets and alpine heath or meadows.

Wetlands cover large areas in Sweden, with raised bogs and rich fens being the most common types. The country has about 90,000 lakes, most of which are nutrient-poor or small ponds with brown water surrounded by floating mats of bog vegetation. Nutrient-rich lakes are mostly found in the south and have dense reed stands, other emergent plants, free-floating plants, and submerged vegetation.

The coast of Sweden is long, and conditions are quite different at the endpoints, with the vegetation ranging from North Atlantic near the Norwegian border to subarctic near the Finnish border. The vegetation on the seashore is diverse and includes the endemic, tussock-forming grass Deschampsia bottnica, which survives the destructive force of the up to 2-meter waves.

Peat bog in Dalarna, the Scots pine is common in the boreal forest

Overall, Sweden’s vegetation is diverse, and it is a reflection of the country’s varied climatic conditions and geography.

Fauna: Diverse Wildlife in Sweden (Mammals, Birds, Fish, and Insects)

Reindeer
Reindeer

Sweden is home to a wide variety of wildlife, as listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The country has many terrestrial mammals, including the European hedgehog, European mole, various shrews and bats, mountain hare, Eurasian beaver, red squirrel, smaller rodents, wild boar, red deer, elk (moose), roe deer, and semi-domesticated reindeer. There are also various carnivores such as the brown bear, Eurasian wolf, red fox, Arctic fox (in the mountains), Eurasian lynx, European badger, Eurasian otter, stoat, least weasel, European polecat, European pine marten, and wolverine. The coast is inhabited by three species of seal, while the only whale that breeds in Swedish waters is the porpoise.

Some of the animals found in Sweden were deliberately introduced, such as the European rabbit, European hare, and fallow deer. Other species, such as the raccoon dog, mink, muskrat, brown rat, and house mouse, were unintentionally introduced but have established viable populations.

The Red List of critically endangered mammals in Sweden includes Bechstein’s bat, the common pipistrelle, and the Arctic fox. Endangered mammals include the barbastelle, serotine bat, pond bat, lesser noctule, and wolf. Vulnerable mammals include the Eurasian otter, wolverine, harbour seal, harbour porpoise, and Natterer’s bat.

Sweden is also home to a variety of birds, with over 535 species recorded by Avibase: Bird Checklists of the World. However, less than half of these species breed regularly in Sweden. Many of the birds are migratory, traveling between Arctic breeding grounds and overwintering quarters in Europe and Africa. Birds that breed and overwinter in Sweden include tits, corvids, galliformes, owls, and several birds of prey.

Female willow ptarmigan in summer plumage
Female willow ptarmigan in summer plumage

Sweden has one endemic fish, the critically endangered freshwater Coregonus trybomi, which is found in a single lake. Amphibians found in Sweden include eleven species of frogs and toads and two species of newt, while reptiles include four species of snake and three of lizard. All of these species are protected under the law.

Lastly, Sweden has an estimated 108 species of butterflies, 60 species of dragonflies, and 40 species of wood-boring beetles.

Conservation

Sweden’s forests are extensively managed, with only the coldest areas and rocky terrain being excluded. While fragments of old growth forest exist near the mountains, they are rapidly being lost due to a lack of protection. The most commonly used tree species in forestry are Scots pine and Norway spruce, with North American lodgepole pine being preferred in the interior of northern Sweden due to its productivity in those soils and climates.

The country has an extensive network of forestry roads, with a combined length of four times the circumference of the globe. As a result, few Swedish forest areas are considered wilderness, with Muddus National Park being an exception. The negative impact of hydroelectric dams is also evident in several wilderness areas, including Stora Sjöfallet National Park.

Forestry practices such as draining wet forests and non-forested wetlands have caused significant ecosystem shifts and biodiversity loss. However, there have been some improvements in recent years, such as leaving individual dead and living trees and patches of forest in clear-cut areas and the creation of new nature reserves.

Climate change is also likely to impact Sweden’s biodiversity, with the treeline moving further north and to higher altitudes, and forests replacing tundra. The melting of ice will increase runoff, affecting wetlands, and the rise in sea level will lead to greater inflow of saline water into the Baltic Sea.

Overall, while Sweden’s forestry practices have some negative impacts on biodiversity and wilderness areas, recent efforts to improve these practices and create new nature reserves are positive steps towards mitigating the impact of climate change.

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