Identifying practical indicators of biodiversity for stand-level management of plantation forests

  • George F. SmithEmail author
  • Tom Gittings
  • Mark Wilson
  • Laura French
  • Anne Oxbrough
  • Saoirse O’Donoghue
  • John O’Halloran
  • Daniel L. Kelly
  • Fraser J. G. Mitchell
  • Tom Kelly
  • Susan Iremonger
  • Anne-Marie McKee
  • Paul Giller
Part of the Topics in Biodiversity and Conservation book series (TOBC, volume 9)


Identification of valid indicators of biodiversity is a critical need for sustainable forest management. We developed compositional, structural and functional indicators of biodiversity for five taxonomic groups—bryophytes, vascular plants, spiders, hoverflies and birds—using data from 44 Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) plantation forests in Ireland. The best structural biodiversity indicator was stand stage, defined using a multivariate classification of forest structure variables. However, biodiversity trends over the forest cycle and between tree species differ among the taxonomic groups studied. Canopy cover was the main structural indicator and affected other structural variables such as cover of lower vegetation layers. Other structural indicators included deadwood and distances to forest edge and to broadleaved woodland. Functional indicators included stand age, site environmental characteristics and management practices. Compositional indicators were limited to more easily identifiable plant and bird species. Our results suggest that the biodiversity of any one of the species groups we surveyed cannot act as a surrogate for all of the other species groups. However, certain subgroups, such as forest bryophytes and saproxylic hoverflies, may be able to act as surrogates for each other. The indicators we have identified should be used together to identify stands of potentially high biodiversity or to evaluate the biodiversity effects of silvicultural management practices. They are readily assessed by non-specialists, ecologically meaningful and applicable over a broad area with similar climate conditions and silvicultural systems. The approach we have used to develop biodiversity indicators, including stand structural types, is widely relevant and can enhance sustainable forest management of plantations.


Biodiversity Forest management Indicator Plantation Species richness Stand structure Sustainable forest management 



Coarse woody debris


Diameter at breast height (1.3 m)


Geographical positioning system


Indicator value


Non-metric multidimensional scaling


Principal components analysis


Standard error


Species richness


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • George F. Smith
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Tom Gittings
    • 2
  • Mark Wilson
    • 2
  • Laura French
    • 1
  • Anne Oxbrough
    • 2
  • Saoirse O’Donoghue
    • 1
  • John O’Halloran
    • 2
  • Daniel L. Kelly
    • 1
  • Fraser J. G. Mitchell
    • 1
  • Tom Kelly
    • 2
  • Susan Iremonger
    • 1
  • Anne-Marie McKee
    • 1
  • Paul Giller
    • 2
  1. 1.BIOFOREST Project, Department of BotanyTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.BIOFOREST Project, Department of ZoologyEcology and Plant Science, University College CorkCorkIreland
  3. 3.AtkinsCo. DublinIreland

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