, Volume 12, Issue 9, pp 1883-1900

Plans for a large regional forest in eastern Flanders (Belgium): assessment of spider diversity and community structure in the current forest remnants

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The absence of large forests and the importance of natural elements for the welfare and health of people, made the Flemish government and the province of eastern Flanders, Belgium, investigate the establishment of one large regional forest out of existing forest remnants. After several studies, the location ‘Makegem forests–Aelmoeseneiebos’ was withheld for future forest expansion. In this study, the spider fauna of five forest remnants from that region was sampled and differences and congruencies in spider diversity and community structure of these fragments were assessed. Our results show that (1) considering the limited forest areas and high degree of fragmentation, the overall observed spider diversity was high, but half of the spiders were non-forest species, (2) half of the encountered Red list species were restricted to only one of the studied woodlands and creating one large forest may be vital for their conservation, (3) diversity–rarefaction curves were higher for the more humid than for the dryer forest sites, and (4) dissimilarities between spider communities are mostly caused by historical factors and humidity and are therefore also linked with the properties of the litter layer and main tree species. We conclude that an expansion of the existing forest remnants will likely maintain or even improve the richness of the spider faunas. Because sufficiently large suitable habitats will develop, several (critical) species may be saved. This is, however, only possible if the characteristic properties of the forests are preserved.