|dc.description.abstract||Minimising the potential impact of forest management requires an understanding of the key elements that maintain forest diversity and its role in ecological processes. Invertebrates are the most diverse of all biota and play important roles in maintaining forest processes.
However, little is known about invertebrates in New Zealand's beech forests or the degree to which selective beech harvest might impact on their diversity and ability to carry out ecosystem processes. Studying ecosystem responses to disturbance is considered vital for understanding how ecosystems are maintained. One of the main objectives of this research was to assess whether litter-dwelling invertebrates were susceptible to the impacts of selective harvest and, if so, whether they could be used as indicators of forest health. Changes in invertebrate diversity could have important implications for nutrient cycling and primary production in forests. Litter-dwelling invertebrates contribute to the process of decomposition by increasing the surface area of the leaves, mixing soil organic matter and by infecting leaf particles with soil microbes. This investigation into the function of invertebrates in beech forest was carried out in the context of ecological theories which relate diversity to ecosystem stability and resilience.
A replicated study was established in Maruia State Forest (South Island, New Zealand) to assess the potential biotic and abiotic impacts of sustainable beech harvest. Litter-dwelling invertebrates and environmental factors were monitored during 1997, before harvest, to determine how much variability there was between study sites. Specifically, litter pH, light intensity, litter fall, litter temperature, moisture as well as invertebrate abundance and diversity were compared before and after selective harvest.
On 17 January 1998, two to three trees were selectively harvested from three of the nine study sites. On 15 February 1998 a similar number of trees were winched over or felled manually to create artificial windthrow sites. The remaining three undisturbed sites were used as controls. Invertebrates belonging to the detritivore guild were assessed from litter samples and a series of litter-bags containing pre-weighed leaf litter which were placed in each of the sites to assess rates of litter decomposition.
Millipedes (Diplopoda: Polyzoniidae, Schedotrigonidae, Dalodesmidae, Habrodesmidae, Sphaerotheridae), earthworms (Oligochaeta: Annelida), tipulid larvae (Diptera: Tipulidae), weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), moth larvae (Lepidoptera: Oecophoridae, Tortricidae and Psychidae), slaters (Isopoda: Styloniscidae), Oribatid mites (Acarina: Cryptostigmata) and landhoppers (Crustacea: Amphipoda) were extracted from the litter-bags and their abundance and diversity was compared between the three treatments. Weight loss from the litter-bags and the carbon and nitrogen content of litter were used to measure the rate of decomposition in each treatment. An additional study investigated whether exclusion of invertebrates from leaf litter resulted in reduced rates of decomposition.
The results indicated that there was an increase in light intensity and a small increase in temperature following selective harvest and artificial windthrow. There was no significant difference in litter moisture or the amount of litter fall between the treatments. Invertebrate abundances were significantly affected by season but did not appear to be affected by selective harvest or artificial windthrow. The diversity of invertebrates remained relatively constant throughout the year, as did the rate of decomposition. When invertebrates were excluded from the leaf litter there was no consequential effect on the rate of litter decomposition. This suggests that there may be compensatory mechanisms taking place between the trophic levels of the food web to maintain processes and that direct links between invertebrates and decomposition are relatively weak.
In conclusion, it appears that the effects of selective beech harvest on forest-floor processes were minimal and are comparable to those created by natural windthrow disturbance. It also appears that macroclimatic effects such as seasonal climatic effects have a large effect on forest biota. As none of the invertebrates studied appeared to be detrimentally affected by selective harvest and as there was no direct link demonstrated with decomposition, it was considered inappropriate to advocate the use of this group of invertebrates as indicators of sustainable forest management. The results from this study provide information which may help inform decisions on the future management of diversity in beech forest ecosystems.||en