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Global Ecology and Conservation




Elsevier BV

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Across the northern hemisphere, six species of aspen (Populus spp.) play a disproportionately important role in promoting biodiversity, sequestering carbon, limiting forest disturbances, and providing other ecosystem services. In many regions, aspen can maintain canopy dominance for decades to centuries as the sole major broadleaf trees in forested landscapes otherwise dominated by conifers. Aspen ecosystems are valued for many reasons, but here we highlight their potential as key contributors to regional and global biodiversity. We begin with an overview of the aspens’ ecological and economic roles. We then present a systematic literature analysis to assess topics of aspen study and how they differ by species and geographic region. We present global trends in research priorities, strengths, and weaknesses with the intention of bolstering a unified approach to aspen science and conservation. The body of this review consists of regional explorations of key aspen uses, threats, and research priorities with an eye toward developing strategies for research sharing and conservation practice. In that vein, we examine research gaps or areas in need of improved science resources by geographic location. Based on this global review of aspen research, we argue for the advancement of the “mega-conservation” strategy, centered on the idea of sustaining a set of common keystone communities (aspen) that support wide arrays of obligate species. This strategy contrasts with conventional preservation which focuses limited resources on individual species residing in narrow niches. Common threats to thriving aspen ecosystems include effects of herbivory, land clearing, logging practices favoring conifer species, and projected climate warming. Multi-scale research is needed that incorporates climatic variability with disturbance and how ecological, physiological, and genetic variability determine recruitment success in aspen. This review is intended to place aspen systems in a global conservation context by focusing on the many scientific advances taking place in these biologically diverse systems.