Biological legacies buffer local species extinction after logging

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Summary

  1. Clearcutting has been identified as a main threat to forest biodiversity. In the last few decades, alternatives to clearcutting have gained much interest. Living and dead trees are often retained after harvest to serve as structural legacies to mitigate negative effects of forestry. However, this practice is widely employed without information from systematic before–after control-impact studies to assess the processes involved in species responses after clearcutting with retention.
  2. We performed a large-scale survey of the occurrence of logging-sensitive and red-listed bryophytes and lichens before and after clearcutting with the retention approach. A methodology was adopted that, for the first time in studies on retention approaches, enabled monitoring of location-specific substrates. We used uncut stands as controls to assess the variables affecting the survival of species after a major disturbance.
  3. In total, 12 bryophyte species and 27 lichen species were analysed. All were classified as sensitive to logging, and most species are also currently red-listed. We found that living and dead trees retained after final harvest acted as refugia in which logging-sensitive species were able to survive for 3 to 7 years after logging. Depending on type of retention and organism group, between 35% and 92% of the species occurrences persisted on retained structures. Most species observed outside retention trees or patches disappeared.
  4. Larger pre-harvest population sizes of bryophytes on dead wood increased the survival probability of the species and hence buffered the negative effects of logging.
  5. Synthesis and applications. Careful spatial planning of retention structures is required to fully embrace the habitats of logging-sensitive species. Bryophytes and lichens persisted to a higher degree in retention patches compared to solitary trees or in the clearcut area. Retaining groups of trees in logged areas will help to sustain populations of species over the clearcut phase. When possible, old logs should be moved into retention patches to provide a more beneficial environment for dead wood-dependent species. Our study also highlights the need for more before–after control-impact studies of retention forestry to explore factors influencing the survival of species after logging.

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