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The value of plantation forests for plant, invertebrate and bird diversity and the potential for cross-taxon surrogacy

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Abstract

As the area of plantation forest expands worldwide and natural, unmanaged forests decline there is much interest in the potential for planted forests to provide habitat for biodiversity. In regions where little semi-natural woodland remains, the biodiversity supported by forest plantations, typically non-native conifers, may be particularly important. Few studies provide detailed comparisons between the species diversity of native woodlands which are being depleted and non-native plantation forests, which are now expanding, based on data collected from multiple taxa in the same study sites. Here we compare the species diversity and community composition of plants, invertebrates and birds in Sitka spruce- (Picea sitchensis-) dominated and Norway spruce- (Picea abies-) dominated plantations, which have expanded significantly in recent decades in the study area in Ireland, with that of oak- and ash-dominated semi-natural woodlands in the same area. The results show that species richness in spruce plantations can be as high as semi-natural woodlands, but that the two forest types support different assemblages of species. In areas where non-native conifer plantations are the principle forest type, their role in the provision of habitat for biodiversity conservation should not be overlooked. Appropriate management should target the introduction of semi-natural woodland characteristics, and on the extension of existing semi-natural woodlands to maintain and enhance forest species diversity. Our data show that although some relatively easily surveyed groups, such as vascular plants and birds, were congruent with many of the other taxa when looking across all study sites, the similarities in response were not strong enough to warrant use of these taxa as surrogates of the others. In order to capture a wide range of biotic variation, assessments of forest biodiversity should either encompass several taxonomic groups, or rely on the use of indicators of diversity that are not species based.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Department of Food, Agriculture & the Marine and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering & Technology under the National Development Plan 2007–2013. We thank Coillte and the many private forest owners in Ireland who granted permission for use of their forest sites in this study. We also thank Lauren Fuller for her contribution to manuscript preparation and Sue Iremonger, Keith Kirby, Tor-Bjorn Larsson and Noel Foley for scientific advice.

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Correspondence to Sandra Irwin.

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Communicated by B.D. Hoffmann.

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Irwin, S., Pedley, S.M., Coote, L. et al. The value of plantation forests for plant, invertebrate and bird diversity and the potential for cross-taxon surrogacy. Biodivers Conserv 23, 697–714 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0627-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0627-4

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