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Assessing the value of secondary woodlands for biodiversity

Carried out by: University of Stirling

Summary Description:

Woodland creation and restoration are often assumed to benefit biodiversity. However, slow habitat succession rates and time lags in species responses have resulted in a lack of empirical studies assessing the long-term value of these activities. The work proposed in this project will use ancient semi-natural woodlands (250+ years old; usually regarded as high quality habitats for many taxa) as reference sites to assess how secondary woodlands planted over the last century are performing in terms of their value for biodiversity, using moths (a biologically-diverse group and indicator for forest quality and wider biodiversity) as a case study. We will identify key differences in habitat structure between ancient and secondary woodlands and explore how these relate to woodland moth communities.

Timescale: 2017-2018

SFT Funds Awarded: £7,155

Project Outcomes:

Woodland creation and restoration are often assumed to benefit biodiversity. However, slow habitat succession rates and time lags in species responses have resulted in a lack of empirical studies assessing the long-term value of these activities. Here, ancient semi-natural woodlands (250+ years old; usually regarded as high quality habitats for many taxa) were used as reference sites to assess how secondary woodlands planted over the last century are performing in terms of their value for biodiversity, using moths (a biologically-diverse group and indicator for forest quality and wider biodiversity) as a case study. Preliminary results indicated moderate differences in the vegetation structure of ancient vs. secondary woodlands; in general, ancient woodlands had larger trees, higher structural heterogeneity, denser understorey and canopy cover, larger proportion of native tree species and lower tree densities than secondary woodlands. Despite these habitat differences, ancient and secondary woodlands harboured similar moth abundance and species richness, suggesting that they can both be valuable habitat for moths.

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