Highlights: Differences in ground vegetation patterns can be linked to tree species, forest stand age and differences in canopy cover; Vascular plant cover was higher in stands of P. contorta than in stands of both native tree species; The overall differences and similarities between P. contorta and the two native conifers were not consistent over the different age classes.
Intensified forestry increases the interest in replacing native tree species with fast growing non-native species. However, consequences for native biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are poorly understood. We compared cover and composition of major functional groups of ground vegetation between planted stands of non-native Pinus contorta Dougl. var. latifolia Engelm. and native conifers Pinus sylvestris L. and Picea abies (L.) H. Karst. in northern boreal Sweden. We quantified the ground cover of lichens, bryophytes, vascular plants and ground without vegetation (bare ground) in 96 stands covering three different age classes (15, 30 and 85 years old). Our study revealed differences in ground vegetation patterns between non-native and native managed forests, and that these differences are linked to stand age and differences in canopy cover. Total vascular plant cover increased with increasing stand age for all tree species, with P. contorta stands having higher cover than both native conifers. The ground cover of lichens was, although generally low, highest in stands of Pinus sylvestris. P. abies stands had a lower cover of vascular plants, but bare ground was more common compared with P. contorta. Our results suggest that the use of P. contorta as an alternative tree species in Fennoscandian forestry will influence native ground vegetation patterns. This influence is likely to change with time and future research should consider both temporal and landscape-scale effects from shifting tree-species dominance to Pinus contorta and other non-native tree species.