Ground Beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) Response to Harvest Residue Retention: Implications for Sustainable Forest Bioenergy Production

Authors: Steven M. Grodsky, Rebecca R. Hernandez, Joshua W. Campbell, Kevin R. Hinson, Oliver Keller, Sarah R. Fritts, Jessica A. Homyack, and Christopher E. Moorman 

Research Highlights: Our study adds to the scant literature on the effects of forest bioenergy on ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) and contributes new insights into the responses of ground beetle species and functional groups to operational harvest residue retention. We discovered that count of Harpalus pensylvanicus (DeGeer)—a habitat generalist—increased owing to clear-cut harvests but decreased due to harvest residue reductions; these observations uniquely allowed us to separate effects of additive forest disturbances to demonstrate that, contrarily to predictions, a generalist species considered to be adapted to disturbance may be negatively affected by altered habitat elements associated with disturbances from renewable energy development. Background and Objectives: Despite the potential environmental benefits of forest bioenergy, woody biomass harvests raise forest sustainability concerns for some stakeholders. Ground beetles are well established ecological indicators of forest ecosystem health and their life history characteristics are connected to habitat elements that are altered by forest harvesting. Thus, we evaluated the effects of harvest residue retention following woody biomass harvest for forest bioenergy on ground beetles in an operational field experiment. Materials and Methods: We sampled ground beetles using pitfall traps in harvest residue removal treatments representing variable woody biomass retention prescriptions, ranging from no retention to complete retention of all merchantable woody biomass. We replicated treatments in eight clear-cut stands in intensively managed loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) forests in North Carolina and Georgia. Results: Harvest residue retention had no effect on ground beetle richness and diversity. However, counts of H. pensylvanicus, Anisodactylus spp., and “burrower” and “fast runner” functional groups, among others, were greater in treatments with no woody biomass harvest than those with no harvest residue retention; all of these ground beetles may confer ecosystem services in forests. We suggest that H. pensylvanicus is a useful indicator species for burrowing and granivorous ground beetle response to harvest residue reductions in recently harvested stands. Lastly, we propose that retaining 15% retention of total harvest residues or more, depending on regional and operational variables, may support beneficial ground beetle populations

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