Spotlight: new insights into forest management

What are some surprising new approaches to restoration in forest landscapes? What are the ecosystem services provided by deer? Can we use salvage logging to prevent future bark beetle outbreaks? These questions and more are answered in our new Spotlight collection, sharing new insights and innovations in forest management. Associate Editor, Julio Louzada brings together the featured articles.

The modern tradeoff between the maintenance of ecosystem services and demand for goods has imposed a research agenda targeting practical, low-cost actions and the breaking of paradigms in conservation science.  How should we manage native forests and tree plantations to increase the multitude of uses and the biodiversity and carbon stock conservation? This central question has moved the interest of scientists and practitioners across the world and has resulted in innovative approaches to face this issue.  Here, I summarize the six study studies brought together for this Journal of Applied Ecology Spotlight on forest management. These studies provide insights to advance conservation science in the anthropocene and its applications to current demands to conserve at low cost and effectively.

At first glance, it seemed a challenge to synthesise all the practical insights presented in this group of well-done applied investigations. The authors address a range of contexts where management actions are crucial to improve the conservation gains: from new roles for small woodlands in agricultural landscapes, to the innovative restoration strategies using the controversial eucalyptus tree as an ally.  At the same time, the studies also provide insights into the management of animal species in forested habitats, aiming to reduce their impacts or to increase their services. After reading the papers it is possible to gain an understanding of the relevance of management actions for biotic conservation in anthropic landscapes.

JonathanLenoir_2
An example of small woodlands in agricultural landscapes. Photo by Jonathan Lenoir

The maintenance of small woodlands and low productivity forests to address biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service targets is a resurgent theme. The value of these small woodlands, scattered across the farmland landscapes, to biodiversity conservation, is unequivocal,  but its role in landscape functionality is controversial. Dr. Alicia Valdés led a big group of researchers in to highlight that ‘despite their lower multiversity, smaller woodlands had the potential to deliver multiple services at higher performance levels per area than larger woodlands of a similar age’. In their Editor’s Choice article, the group of researchers presents strong evidence that smaller woodlands in agricultural landscapes, especially ancient woodlands, have a higher potential to deliver multiple ecosystem services on a per-area basis, emphasising the urgent need for adequate management and conservation policies to maximize the delivery of ecosystems services. Hämäläinen and colleagues provide additional insights about the importance of low boreal low-productivity forests to conserve lichen biodiversity. However, their value is far from uniform, and they propose that conservation planning should acknowledge this variation and not treat all low‐productivity forests as a uniform group.

Focusing locally but with wider implications, two novel studies provide valuable insights to improve the conservation value of rubber plantations and to drastically reduce the cost of forest restoration, both using high-yielding clonal varieties. Warren-Thomas and colleagues quantified the value of agroforests using rubber clonal varieties to conserve the native biodiversity and provide a more diversified profile of goods. The authors found a modest increase of biodiversity at agroforests relative to monospecific rubber plantations, but also did not observe a reduction in yield production. They conclude that the management of monocultural rubber production to increase inter-row vegetation height and complexity may further benefit biodiversity. On the other hand, Brancalion and colleagues present a novel framework to restore degraded sites of tropical forests using the ‘demonized’ eucalyptus tree, to essentially pay the bill.  The authors empirically show that planting and harvesting selective eucalyptus trees in recovering areas does not have a severe impact on the native vegetation. It also pays for most of the cost involved in recovery activities.

European spruce bark beetle - Gilles San Martin
A likely culprit for bark beetle outbreaks. Dobor et al. explore the relationship between this and salvage logging intensities.

Since the management of animal populations living in production forests is usually context dependent, there is a clear need of innovative and experimental approaches in this field. Dobor and colleagues used the forest landscape model iLand to explore the effect of a wide range of salvaging intensities on subsequent bark beetle outbreaks, and landscape scale forest carbon stocks. They show that using salvage logging to prevent future bark beetle outbreaks and, at the same time, conserving live tree carbon, is feasible;  but it is clearly context-dependent. In the same line, Stokely and Betts found very interesting results evaluating the ecosystem services and disservices provided by deer in broadleaf forests. Deer services and impact is contingent on the amount of forage available in the landscape and subsequent foraging pressure.

This new Spotlight focuses on the new insights into forest management and adds novel scientific evidence to biodiversity and ecosystem services conservation. It should serve as a starting point to advance towards practical and more effective strategies to manage landscapes in a range of terrestrial systems. This collection of work presents a handful of case studies and novel insights to improve conservation strategies that can be widely applied to mitigate the human impact in natural habitats.

All articles in the forest management Spotlight are free to read for a limited time. Find them in issue 57:01 of Journal of Applied Ecology.

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