Primary forest loss and degradation reduces biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: a global meta-analysis using dung beetles as an indicator taxon.
Because of continuing degradation or deforestation in areas of undisturbed primary forest, there is a need to study the relative merit of strategies that mitigate their impacts on biodiversity and associated ecological functionality. Here, we provide a global synthesis of forest degradation or deforestation using 48 studies published in peer-reviewed journals that use dung beetles as indicators given their sensitivity to anthropogenic disturbance and their relevance in performing essential ecological functions in terrestrial ecosystems. We evaluated forest cover associated with undisturbed primary forest degradation (i.e. degraded primary forest) and undisturbed primary forest deforestation (i.e. secondary forest, forestry plantations and forestry restoration implementation) on species richness, total abundance, biomass, functional groups' presence and ecological functions provided by dung beetles. Additionally, we determined whether if dung beetle responses to forest disturbances were geographically dependent. We found lower diversity and a decrease in ecological functions associated with all classes of disturbance in primary forest. However, the effects were less severe in the case of forest degradation compared to complete deforestation with natural regeneration of secondary forest, development of forest plantations or active forest restoration by planting indigenous trees. The Neotropical and Oriental regions are particularly vulnerable, given the elevated rates of undisturbed primary forest deforestation and its negative impact on their assemblages' diversity and ecological functions. Synthesis and applications. Our results show that efforts for the conservation of remaining undisturbed primary forests need to be prioritized, especially in tropical latitudes. However, in regions where primary forest conservation is not feasible, logging management programs in degraded primary forest may have a potential role in reducing negative impacts for dung beetle diversity and ecological functions. Moreover, we conclude that despite the negative effect of primary forest deforestation and implementation of secondary forest, forestry plantation and forestry restoration, they can be useful for partial recovery of diversity and ecological functions performed by dung beetles in areas lacking any primary forest (undisturbed or degraded) vegetation cover.