The response of ground-dwelling spiders (Araneae) and hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae) to afforestation assessed using within-site tracking
In many countries throughout the world, the area of plantation forests continues to increase and they now dominate many landscapes. In recent decades, forest cover in Ireland has expanded largely due to commercial afforestation with non-native conifers. This study provides the first within-site assessment of the response of two important arthropod groups to afforestation in agricultural grasslands in Ireland. Five sites were studied 1 year before and 7 years after afforestation using pitfall trapping for active ground-dwelling spiders and Malaise trapping for hoverflies. Both species groups were studied in grassland habitat, and spiders were also sampled in field boundary hedgerow habitat. Afforestation within the study sites had a positive effect on ground-dwelling spider diversity over the first 7 years; total species richness increased in afforested grassland and hedgerow habitats, and forest specialist species richness increased in afforested grassland habitat. This was concurrent with, and most likely influenced by, the increase in habitat structure created by the forest vegetation, litter and deadwood layers and the increase in canopy cover. There was no effect of afforestation on hoverfly species richness over the first 7 years, possibly due to confounding effects of hoverfly movements across landscapes. Spider and hoverfly species compositions were also positively affected by afforestation. These results indicated that afforestation in our study sites, set within a predominantly agricultural landscape, benefitted arthropod diversity by increasing habitat diversity. Hedgerow habitats were also an important contributor to biodiversity in these newly planted forests. Ecologically oriented planning and management of afforestation must consider the influence of habitat quality in forest plantations, including the protection of biodiversity rich habitats and the quality of the land being afforested, to improve the contribution to biodiversity enhancement and conservation.
Author(s): Fuller, L; Oxbrough, A; Gittings, T; Irwin, S; Kelly, TC; O'Halloran, J