Saproxylic invertebrates in plantation forests
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The conversion of natural forests to production land uses has led to huge losses of biodiversity and continues to threaten remaining terrestrial flora and fauna throughout the world. The global demand for wood products and energy, which was partly responsible for the loss of primary native habitat, is now one of the leading drivers of afforestation with significant new areas of plantation replacing former agricultural lands. While plantations do not support the same biodiversity values as natural forests they do provide significant habitat for a range of species. Saproxylic invertebrates (species that are dependent on deadwood) are strongly affected by the temporal and spatial availability of different deadwood resources. Previous research on saproxylic invertebrates has largely been restricted to natural or managed natural forests predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere, where forest management practices have been modified to conserve these species This thesis fills a distinct research gap in New Zealand and is the first large scale study to quantify the effects of deadwood age, wood species, and landscape composition on saproxylic invertebrates in our plantation forests by direct rearing. In this thesis I show that thinning residues, which are currently retained in many plantation forests, provide significant habitat for a range of native invertebrate taxonomic groups, including diverse assemblages of Coleoptera and Hymenoptera. Deadwood age is an important attribute determining taxonomic richness of saproxylic invertebrates. Richness of invertebrate orders/classes and Coleoptera species all increased in older deadwood material, and a stepwise multidimensional analysis procedure indicated that the age of deadwood was the most important factor structuring saproxylic invertebrate community composition in Pinus radiata thinning residues. Deadwood age was a stronger predictor of community composition in thinning residue than measures of landscape composition, such as the proportion of remnant native forest cover. The change in saproxylic invertebrate composition that occurs with deadwood age was related to changes in the feeding guilds, with a transition from primary wood feeding species to predators/parasitoids and fungal feeders with increasing dead wood age. Because thinning’s are carried out at prescribed times throughout the stand rotation, stand age could be adopted as a proxy for deadwood age in these systems allowing forest managers a simple method for monitoring saproxylic beetle habitat availability . My research provides strong empirical evidence that supports the existing conservation paradigm that forest managers should seek to create a mosaic of habitats at the landscape scale to enhance biodiversity opportunities in plantations. In addition to the habitat opportunities provided by P. radiata deadwood that is derived from silvicultural practices there are several sources of native wood in plantations. Native woody resources are found in either the embedded remnant areas of native forest or in the understory of stands as many native woody species colonise this habitat. As yet the importance of native understory deadwood resources for saproxylic species is unknown. In addition it is unclear how the importance of such understory resources is influenced by proximity to remnant native forest patches. I used experimental wood billets of four tree species (3 native and the exotic P. radiata) placed along replicated transects spanning native habitat and adjacent early stage regenerating plantation stands to assess the saproxylic invertebrate assemblages associated with different deadwood species as a function of proximity to native forest. I found that an interaction between wood host specificity (local scale) and proximity to interior native forest (landscape scale) was the most important factor regulating saproxylic invertebrate community structure. Deadwood of the native subcanopy trees Schefflera digitata, Melicytus ramiflorus, Aristotelia serrata and the exotic conifer P. radiata provided habitat for different subsets of the saproxylic fauna. The most pronounced differences in saproxylic community structure were between the native sub-canopy broadleaf species and the exotic P. radiata. Surprisingly the P. radiata supported a greater species richness and abundance of saproxylic Coleoptera in native remnants than the native wood species in the same habitat. In general, species richness was higher in native forest habitats and declined with increasing distance from native habitat. These results suggest that both the diversity of deadwood resources that are available and their proximity to native remnants are important for maintaining saproxylic communities in plantations. However, two of the native wood species (M. ramiflorus and A. serrata) exhibited steep declines in species richness at the plantation native forest boundary, suggesting that the contrasting stand types (native remnant and young regenerating plantation stands) with their different microclimate may have had a significant influence. Future research needs to compare the saproxylic fauna of dead wood in mature plantation stands with adjacent native remnants to ascertain if the effect of native habitat proximity is due to landscape composition or a reflection of microclimatic differences. The large diversity of saproxylic species observed during this study highlights the importance of plantations as habitat for saproxylic species, particularly in heavily fragmented landscapes that retain little original native forest. My research findings provide forest managers with options for improving forest management to enhance opportunities for the conservation of saproxylic invertebrates. In addition my thesis provides one of the most comprehensive multi-taxon data sets of saproxylic species associated with a variety of deadwood resources. This information will be invaluable to future researchers that continue to work on New Zealand’s saproxylic fauna.