Biodiversity along temperate forest succession.

Published online
29 May 2019
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Hilmers, T. & Friess, N. & Bässler, C. & Heurich, M. & Brandl, R. & Pretzsch, H. & Seidl, R. & Müller, J.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Central Europe & Europe


The successional dynamics of forests-from canopy openings to regeneration, maturation, and decay-influence the amount and heterogeneity of resources available for forest-dwelling organisms. Conservation has largely focused only on selected stages of forest succession (e.g., late-seral stages). However, to develop comprehensive conservation strategies and to understand the impact of forest management on biodiversity, a quantitative understanding of how different trophic groups vary over the course of succession is needed. We classified mixed mountain forests in Central Europe into nine successional stages using airborne LiDAR. We analysed α- and β-diversity of six trophic groups encompassing approximately 3,000 species from three kingdoms. We quantified the effect of successional stage on the number of species with and without controlling for species abundances and tested whether the data fit the more-individuals hypothesis or the habitat heterogeneity hypothesis. Furthermore, we analysed the similarity of assemblages along successional development. The abundance of producers, first-order consumers, and saprotrophic species showed a U-shaped response to forest succession. The number of species of producer and consumer groups generally followed this U-shaped pattern. In contrast to our expectation, the number of saprotrophic species did not change along succession. When we controlled for the effect of abundance, the number of producer and saproxylic beetle species increased linearly with forest succession, whereas the U-shaped response of the number of consumer species persisted. The analysis of assemblages indicated a large contribution of succession-mediated β-diversity to regional γ-diversity. Synthesis and applications. Depending on the species group, our data supported both the more-individuals hypothesis and the habitat heterogeneity hypothesis. Our results highlight the strong influence of forest succession on biodiversity and underline the importance of controlling for successional dynamics when assessing biodiversity change in response to external drivers such as climate change. The successional stages with highest diversity (early and late successional stages) are currently strongly underrepresented in the forests of Central Europe. We thus recommend that conservation strategies aim at a more balanced representation of all successional stages.

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