Publication details

Formerly coppiced old growth stands act as refugia of threatened biodiversity in a managed steppic oak forest



Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Forest Ecology and Management
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Biodiversity; Clear-cut; Coppice; Forest history; Forest management; Herb layer; Oak plantation; Site preparation; Species richness
Description Forest vegetation is dominated by long-lived species in the tree layer, which facilitates its relatively high inertia and ability to conserve traces of its history in its structure and species composition. Central European lowland forests have been the subject of diverse human use for millennia and some of the present stands still show remnants of historical management forms practised before the onset of modern forestry. In the past decades, biodiversity decline has become a major concern, and restoration of historical uses has been proposed as a nature-friendly alternative for forest management. We explored the consequences of the transformation of an old oak coppice, historically linked to ancient wood pasture system, to oak plantation. We focused on vascular plant species richness and differences in ecological spectra of the plant assemblages, with the goal of evaluating the consequences for biodiversity conservation and identifying possible environmental drivers behind the observed patterns. The study was performed in the best preserved complex of lowland steppic oak forests in the Czech Republic, protected as a Site of Community Importance. We fully inventoried plant species in 135 oak stands classified into three management-age classes: (1) clear-cuts, (2) young growth stands after area-wide site preparation, and (3) old growth stands. For some analyses, old growth stands were divided into those showing signs of past coppicing and the others. We found that species richness was the highest in clear-cuts, the lowest in young growth stands, and intermediate in old growth stands. Clear-cuts showed the highest uniqueness in species composition, with a high share of ruderal species. Young growth stands showed the lowest uniqueness, with a high proportion of competitive species. Old growth stands showed intermediate uniqueness and the coppiced ones had a high share of stress-tolerant species, often of high conservation value. While it is hardly surprising that the establishment of oak plantations has profound effects on biodiversity, we suggest that clearcuffing itself may not be a key issue. Destructive site preparation in clear-cuts, and competition for resources in dense young oak stands are suggested as the main factors threatening the survival of ancient biota of steppic oak forests in our study area. In contrast, continuity of site conditions in formerly coppiced old growth stands facilitates species survival. We suggest that restoration of historical management forms such as coppicing and wood pasture may support this continuity. Where oak planting is still applied, we advise minimising site preparation and applying early thinning of young growth stands.

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