Forest swamps are widely distributed in cold temperate regions, with important landscape and ecological functions. They are prone to conversion caused by complex factors. Forest swamp conversions involve forest swamping, meadow swamping, water body swamping, and conversion to farmland. An understanding of the landscape characteristics and primary environmental factors driving forest swamp conversions is imperative for exploring the mechanism of forest swamp conversions. We investigated the landscape characteristics of forest swamp conversions and quantified the relative importance of environmental factors driving these conversions for the period from 1990 to 2015 in the Great Xing'an Mountains of China. We found that forest swamping displayed high patch numbers (34,916) and density (8.51/100 ha), commonly occurring at the edge of large areas of forests. Meadow swamping was localized with low patch numbers (3613) and density (0.88/100 ha) due to lack of water recharge from ground water. Water body swamping had complex shapes (perimeter area ratio mean = 348.32) because of water table fluctuations and helophyte growth during this conversion process. Conversions to farmland presented fairly regular (perimeter area ratio mean = 289.91) and aggregated (aggregation index = 67.82) characteristics affected by agricultural irrigation and management. We found that climatic and geomorphic factors were relatively important compared to topographic factors for forest swamp conversions. Negative geomorphic conditions provided the waterlogging environment as a precondition of swamp formation. Sufficient precipitation was an important source of water recharge due to the existence of permafrost regions and long-term low temperature reduced the evaporation of swamps water and the decomposition rate of organisms. These wet and cold climatic conditions promoted forest swamp development in cold temperate regions. Humans exerted a relatively important role in forest swamping and conversions to farmland. Fire disturbance and logging accelerated the conversion from forest to swamp. This study provides scientific information necessary for the management and conservation of forest swamp resources in cold temperate regions.
Keywords: cold temperate regions; forest swamps; swamp conversions; variable importance measure.