Conservation value of low-productivity forests measured as the amount and diversity of dead wood and saproxylic beetles

Ecol Appl. 2018 Jun;28(4):1011-1019. doi: 10.1002/eap.1705. Epub 2018 May 21.


In many managed landscapes, low-productivity land comprises most of the remaining relatively untouched areas, and is often over-represented within protected areas. The relationship between the productivity and conservational value of a site is poorly known; however, it has been hypothesized that biodiversity increases with productivity due to higher resource abundance or heterogeneity, and that the species communities of low-productivity land are a nested subset of communities from more productive land. We tested these hypotheses for dead-wood-dependent beetles by comparing their species richness and composition, as well as the amount and diversity of dead wood, between low-productivity (potential forest growth <1 m3 ·ha-1 ·yr-1 ) and high-productivity Scots pine-dominated stands in Sweden. We included four stand types: stands situated on (1) thin soils and (2) mires (both low-productivity), (3) managed stands, and (4) unmanaged stands set aside for conservation purposes (both high-productivity). Beetle species richness and number of red-listed species were highest in the high-productivity set-asides. Species richness was positively correlated with the volume and diversity of dead wood, but volume appeared to be a better predictor than diversity for the higher species richness in set-asides. Beetle species composition was similar among stand types, and the assemblages in low-productivity stands were largely subsets of those in high-productivity set-asides. However, 11% of all species and 40% of red-listed species only occurred in high-productivity stands, while no species were unique to low-productivity stands. We conclude that low-productivity forests are less valuable for conservation than high-productivity forest land. Given the generally similar species composition among stand types, a comparable conservational effect could be obtained by setting aside a larger area of low-productivity forest in comparison to the high-productivity. In terms of dead wood volumes, 1.8-3.6 ha of low-productivity forest has the same value as 1 ha of unmanaged high-productivity forest. This figure can be used to estimate the conservation value of low-productivity forests; however, as high-productivity forests harbored some unique species, they are not completely exchangeable.

Keywords: Pinus sylvestris; dead wood; low-productivity forest; mire; productivity-diversity relationship; saproxylic.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Coleoptera*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Forests*
  • Pinus sylvestris
  • Sweden