Anthropogenic pressures are leading to biodiversity loss on a global scale at a rate that is comparable to that of historic mass extinctions and this threatens the functioning of stable and healthy ecosystems. Forests play a major role in supporting biodiversity, however, deforestation continues to occur at an alarming rate. It is increasingly recognised that plantations can have a role in supporting biodiversity and delivering many of the ecosystem functions of natural woodland and sustainable forest management guidelines have been developed to ensure this. However, the evidence base for these guidelines is limited and further research is required.
A multi-taxa approach is needed to make effective, informed decisions on the management of habitats for biodiversity conservation. Further, functional ecology has the potential to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying ecosystem change since it more directly relates to response to environmental gradient and ecosystem functioning. This study explores multi-taxa (vascular plant, moss, carabid and spider) functional and taxonomic diversity across 40 study plots of typical forests in order to assess the ability of these forests to support biodiversity throughout the forest harvest cycle and over the long-term.
Common forest types, including non-native plantation, native plantation and native forest, were found to have a role in supporting biodiversity, including species of conservation concern. However, this varied in Sitka spruce forests, with closed-canopy stages of the forest harvest cycle supporting less diverse communities. In addition, long-term declines in diversity were detected in all forest types, but this varied with taxonomic group. Overall, canopy tree species was not as important as stand structure or location in determining community composition and diversity, suggesting that alternative management could be implemented to improve a forest’s ability to support biodiversity.