Ground-dwelling invertebrates in reforested conifer plantations

Anne Oxbrough, Sandra Irwin, Thomas C. Kelly, John O'Halloran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
197 Downloads (Pure)


Plantation forests are an important part of the forest estate in many countries. In Ireland, they cover around 9% of the land area and many that are commercially mature are now being felled and reforested. The potential biodiversity value of such second rotation forests has yet to be determined, yet this may be particularly significant in Ireland where cover of semi-natural woodland is only 1%. Invertebrates are a vital component of forest biodiversity, functioning as decomposers and pollinators, herbivores, predators and prey. Spiders and Carabid beetles are often used in biodiversity assessment as they are easily captured using pitfall traps, are taxonomically well known and respond to changes in habitat structure. This study aimed to examine spider and Carabid beetle diversity in second rotation Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) plantations at different stages of the forest cycle (5, 8–12, 20–30, 35–50 years), and compare the spiders captured in second rotation forests with those from first rotation. Spider and beetle diversity was influenced by stand structural development in second rotation plantations with numbers of forest-associated species increasing over the forest cycle. Overall, spider richness declined over the forest cycle and this was related to decreasing cover of field layer vegetation and fewer open-associated species. In contrast, total beetle richness increased and became more specialised over the forest cycle which may be related to slower colonisation of disturbed areas by beetles in comparison with spiders, and fewer open specialists at the early stages of second rotation. Spider assemblages were distinguished between rotations. This may be related to differing habitat conditions in second rotation forests including dryer soils with lower pH, differing vegetation complexity and presence of brush piles. Few of the forest species accumulated during first rotation were retained and the early stages of second rotation forest cycle was characterised by a generalist open fauna. Nonetheless, as the forest cycle progressed the spider assemblages between rotations became more similar. Current forest policy supports retaining over-mature trees and creating a mosaic of different aged stands within a plantation. Such measures may provide refuge for forest species after clearfell. In countries where forest fragments exist in a landscape dominated by agriculture, consideration should be given to the capacity of mature forest adjacent to felled stands to support forest species, and to the configuration of over-mature areas retained after felling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2111-2121
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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