The impact of even-aged and uneven-aged forest management on regional biodiversity of multiple taxa in European beech forests.
For managed temperate forests, conservationists and policymakers favour fine-grained uneven-aged (UEA) management over more traditional coarse-grained even-aged (EA) management, based on the assumption that within-stand habitat heterogeneity enhances biodiversity. There is, however, little empirical evidence to support this assumption. We investigated for the first time how differently grained forest management systems affect the biodiversity of multiple above- and below-ground taxa across spatial scales. We sampled 15 taxa of animals, plants, fungi and bacteria within the largest contiguous beech forest landscape of Germany and classified them into functional groups. Selected forest stands have been managed for more than a century at different spatial grains. The EA (coarse-grained management) and UEA (fine-grained) forests are comparable in spatial arrangement, climate and soil conditions. These were compared to forests of a nearby national park that have been unmanaged for at least 20 years. We used diversity accumulation curves to compare γ-diversity for Hill numbers 0D (species richness), 1D (Shannon diversity) and 2D (Simpson diversity) between the management systems. Beta diversity was quantified as multiple-site dissimilarity. Gamma diversity was higher in EA than in UEA forests for at least one of the three Hill numbers for six taxa (up to 77%), while eight showed no difference. Only bacteria showed the opposite pattern. Higher γ-diversity in EA forests was also found for forest specialists and saproxylic beetles. Between-stand β-diversity was higher in EA than in UEA forests for one-third (all species) and half (forest specialists) of all taxa, driven by environmental heterogeneity between age-classes, while α-diversity showed no directional response across taxa or for forest specialists. Synthesis and applications. Comparing EA and uneven-aged forest management in Central European beech forests, our results show that a mosaic of different age-classes is more important for regional biodiversity than high within-stand heterogeneity. We suggest reconsidering the current trend of replacing even-aged management in temperate forests. Instead, the variability of stages and stand structures should be increased to promote landscape-scale biodiversity.