In the context of the changing focus on the forest industry from exclusive timber production to the provision of services, including biodiversity conservation, the FORESTBIO project set out to investigate the biodiversity of Irish forests. We directly addressed existing gaps in knowledge of the effects of forest management practices on forest biodiversity through the study of second rotation and mixed-species plantation forests in Ireland. The biodiversity of native woodlands was also investigated to provide detailed baseline information on flora and fauna of these woodlands. In addition to this the project set out to identify biodiversity indicators that could be directly used to inform Sustainable Forest Management plans in Ireland.
Surveys of epiphytes, ground vegetation, invertebrates (ground- and canopy-dwelling spiders and beetles, and lepidoptera) and bird diversity were carried out at 60 forest sites across the island of Ireland. The study sites comprised:
20 Sitka spruce reforestation plantations (5 each of 4 age classes)
20 mixed species plantations (5 Norway spruce/oak, 5 Norway spruce/Scots pine and 10 pure NS stands)
20 native woodlands (10 oak-dominated and 10 ash-dominated)
Data on reforestation plantations were compared with existing data on first rotation plantations collected during the BIOFOREST project.
Biodiversity surveys were conducted using standardised sampling methods. A canopy fogging technique was used for an in-depth study of canopy invertebrate biology (supported also by IRCSET). This is the first time that this technique has been used extensively in research in Ireland, and two new invertebrate species records for Ireland were identified in samples collected from native oak woodland canopies. A detailed survey of deadwood in native woodlands and plantation forests was also conducted at a sub-set of forest sites. An investigation of the potential of terrestrial laser scanning for use in the measurement of structural proxies for biodiversity in forests was also undertaken (supported also by the EPA).
Distribution of second rotation Sitka spruce plantations, semi-natural oak and ash woodlands and
mixed & pure Norway spruce plantations across Ireland.
This study found that the different taxonomic groups displayed similar patterns in species richness and community composition over the forest cycle in afforestation and reforestation of Sitka spruce plantations. Species richness was typically high at the beginning and/or end of the cycle and low during the middle stages, and community composition was generally most distinctive in the early stages of both afforestation and reforestation plantations. The inclusion of a broadleaved species (oak) or a light-canopied conifer (Scots pine) in an intimate mixture with Norway spruce had little effect on the diversity or community composition of most of the taxa studied. The exceptions were those groups specifically adapted to living or feeding on native broadleaved trees; the epiphytes also showed a direct response to the addition of a light-canopied conifer.
The oak and ash native woodlands supported broadly similar numbers of bird and invertebrate species, though this differed for ground vegetation and epiphytes. The communities supported between woodland types differed for invertebrates and plants, and for the latter group well-defined plant communities were found. Management of both oak and ash woodlands can therefore increase biodiversity at the landscape scale.
The history of extensive deforestation and exploitation of forests for wood resources in Ireland was evident in the paucity of large-diameter logs and snags found in both native woodlands and plantation forests in this study. Deadwood is one of the most important components of forest ecosystems, and one of the factors that most clearly distinguish woodlands with natural characteristics from more intensively managed forests. Despite the low levels of deadlwood recorded in Irish forests, deadwood was positively related to diversity of a range of taxa in the forests investigated.
Detailed information on these findings can be found in the FORESTBIO Final Project Report.
Full Report: FORESTBIO Final Project Report
This project included a significant training component including undergraduate research projects, Masters research projects, Research MScs and PhDs. Further information on research MSc and PhD projects were as follows:
- Epiphyte diversity in native and plantation forests
- Manipulation of vegetation succession in forestry and applications for sustainable forest management
- Canopy invertebrate biodiversity in a range of forest types
- Lepidopteran diversity in native and plantation forests
- Bird diversity in native and plantation woodlands
- An investigation into usefulness of Terrestrial Laser Scanning in Forest Biodiverity Assesssment
- Irwin, S., Kelly, D.L., Kelly, T.C., Mitchell, F.J.G., Coote, L., Oxbrough, A., Wilson, M.W., Martin, R.D., Moore, K.A., Sweeney, O.F., Dietzsch, A. & O'Halloran, J. 2013. Do Irish forests provide habitat for species of conservation concern. Biology & Environment X:X-X.
Martin, R.D. 2013. Anobium inexspectatum Lohse (Coleoptera: Anobiidae) at Drummin Wood, Co. Galway and Uragh Wood, Co. Kerry , a new record for Ireland. Irish Naturalists' Journal 32 (2): 149-150.
Coote, L., French, L.J., Moore, K.M., Mitchell, F.J.G. and Kelly, D. 2012. Can plantation forests support plant species and communities of semi-natural woodland? Forest Ecology and Management, 283: 86-95. PDF here.
O'Connell, S., Irwin, S., Wilson, M.W., Sweeney, O., Kelly, T.C. and O'Halloran, J. 2012. How can forest management benefit bird communities? Evidence from eight years of research in Ireland. Irish Forestry, 69: 44-57. PDF here.
Oxbrough, A., French, V., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C., Smiddy, P. & O'Halloran, J. 2012. Can mixed species stands enhance arthropod diversity in plantation forests? Forest Ecology and Management, 270: 11-18. PDF here.
Sweeney, O.F., Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C., Gittings, T., O'Halloran, J. 2011. Breeding birds of native woodlands and plantation forests in Ireland. Irish Birds, 9: 181-196. PDF here.
Sweeney, O.F.McD.,Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C. & O'Halloran, J. 2010. The influence of a native tree species mix component on bird communities in non-native coniferous plantations in Ireland. Bird Study, 57 (4): 483-494. PDF here.
Sweeney, O.F.McD.,Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C. & O'Halloran, J. 2010. Breeding bird communities of second rotation plantations at different stages of the forest cycle. Bird Study, 57 (3): 301-314. PDF here.
Sweeney, O.F., Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C. & O'Halloran, J. 2010. Are bird density, species richness and community structure similar between native woodlands and non-native plantations in an area with a generalist bird fauna? Biodiversity & Conservation 19(8): 2329-2342. PDF here.
Oxbrough, A., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C. & O'Halloran, J. 2010. Ground-dwelling invertebrates in reforested conifer plantations. Forest Ecology and Management, 259: 2111-2121. PDF here.
Sweeney, O.F., Martin, R.D., Irwin, S., Kelly, T.C., O'Halloran, J., WIlson, M.W. & McEvoy, P.M. 2010. A lack of large diameter logs and snags characterises dead wood patterns in Irish forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 259: 2056- 2064. PDF here.
Wilson, M., Gittings, T., Kelly, T.C. and O'Halloran, J. 2010. The importance of non-crop vegetation for bird diversity in Sitka spruce plantations in Ireland. Bird Study, 57: 116-120. PDF here.
Martin, R.D. 2009. Entelecara acuminata (Wider, 1834) at Brownstone Wood , Co.Kilkenny (Aeaneae: Linyphiidae), a new record to Ireland. Irish Naturalists Journal, 30 (1): 65-66.
O'Halloran, J., Kelly, T.C., Irwin, S. & Newton, S.F. 2008. Current Ornithological Research in Ireland: 5th Ornithological Research Conference, UCC November 2008. Irish Birds, 8: 441-486. PDF here.