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Restoration measures emulating natural disturbances alter beetle assemblages in boreal forest

Hägglund, Ruaridh, Dynesius, Mats, Löfroth, Therese, Olsson, Jörgen, Roberge, Jean-Michel, Hjältén, Joakim
Forest ecology and management 2020 v.462 pp. 117934
Coleoptera, boreal forests, burning, clearcutting, conservation areas, dead wood, ecological restoration, forest fires, insect communities, landscapes, species richness, traps, trees
Accelerating declines in biodiversity worldwide have accentuated the need for conservation actions. Unfortunately, the decline is unlikely to be reversed by traditional conservation alone, e.g., green tree retention at clear-felling and setting aside protected areas for free development. Instead the practice of ecological restoration has come to play an ever increasing role. Using a before-after control-impact experiment in boreal forest voluntary set-asides, we evaluated the usefulness of two methods of ecological restoration aimed at promoting biodiversity by emulating natural disturbances through restoration burning and artificial gap creation involving dead wood creation. In burned stands (n = 6) we removed up to 35% of the standing volume prior to burning, and in gap cut stands (n = 10) we removed the cut trees from every second gap; harvested trees covered costs for restoration. We used saproxylic and non-saproxylic beetles as a proxy for biodiversity to evaluate the two restoration methods. We compared species compositions of beetles collected with window traps one year before and one year after treatment. In addition, we compared catches in the treatments with those in untreated reference stands. Before treatment, we found no differences between the three groups of stands in terms of overall abundance, species richness or species composition. After treatment, the overall abundance of beetles was higher in the burned sites compared to the reference stands. Overall species richness was higher in burned stands compared to references and gap-cut stands. Gap-cut stands had higher species richness of cambivores and fire favoured species than reference stands. Species composition differed significantly between all three groups of stands. Among the 96 species that significantly contributed to the differences in species composition, 58 were more common in burned stands and 34 more common in gap-cut stands than in the other two stand groups. Nineteen of the 96 species are considered to be favored by forest fires, and 17 of these fire-favored species were more abundant in burned stands than gap-cut stands and/or references. Based on our results that burning and gap-cutting changed the beetle communities in partly different directions, we propose the use of both methods as complements to traditional conservation efforts in future attempts to improve conditions for biodiversity in managed boreal forest landscapes.