Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y071033

    Direct and indirect effects of harvesting on carabid beetle community composition in regenerating sub-boreal spruce stands – refining their indicator potential through understanding of biotic interactions
Project lead: Lindgren, Staffan
Contributing Authors: McColl, Duncan A.; Lindgren, B. Staffan
Imprint: Prince George, BC : University of Northern British Columbia, 2007
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), Carabid Beetles, British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Economic and time constraints make the complete study of the effects of modern forestry upon all organisms unfeasible; however, the need to understand such effects is a necessity if sustainable management of forests is to be achieved. Attempting to mitigate the time and cost constraints has led to attempts to select specific groups as proxies. With the hope that their responses to environmental change reflect a broad range of organismal groups. For example, the carabids or ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) has become a widely used group as as a bioindicator taxon (e.g., Ferris and Humphrey 1999, Paoletti 1999, Pearsall and Dunsworth 2003, Rainio and Niemelä 2003). Carabids (Coleoptera: Carabidae) are appealing research subjects because they represent a well known taxonomic group, respond to environmental change, and they are relatively easy, and therefore inexpensive to collect (Lindroth 1961-1969, Refseth 1980, Niemelä et al.. 2000). Furthermore, they occupy a wide spectrum of ecological niches and trophic levels (Lovei and Sunderland 1996), and have been demonstrated to have potential utility in indicating variations in biodiversity (Butterfield 1997) and in ecological and environmental conditions. For example, in a study examining the effect of forest successon on carabids, Baguette and Gerard (1993), found that the carabid community-composition in Belgian spruce plantations varied with stand structure and age, and tended to consist of open ground and forest generalist species from the local species pool. Brumwell et al. (1998) found that carabids in British Columbia also respond to successional changes in forests, and Koivula et al. (2002) found differences in species richness in regenerating stands of differing ages in Finland. Consequently, continued focus is placed on this group as an indicator taxon, e.g., project Y06-1029 'Utility of carabid beetles as indicator species for monitoring biodiversity effects from variable retention harvesting practices' funded by FSP. Carabids usefulness as bioindicators has been generally accepted (Rainio and Niemelä 2003) and their use as bioindicators in British Columbia has begun (Pearsall and Dunsworth 2003). In order to ensure appropriate interpretation of indices developed using carabids, there is a need for an understanding of relationships between carabids and other organisms within the managed landscape (Rainio and Niemelä 2003). Carabid response patterns to anthropogenic disturbance observed in Alberta (Niemelä et al 1992, Spence et al. 1996), and Europe (Jukes et al. 2001, Heliola et al. 2001, Koivula et al. 2002) are inconsistent with responses observed in British Columbia (Brumwell et al. 1998, Lemieux and Lindgren 2004). Specifically, lower impacts by harvesting on beetle communities have been observed at high elevations (Lemieux and Lindgren 2004, Pearsall and Dunsworth 2003), indicating that the effects on many carabid species may be indirect, possibly due to climatic factors, or to biotic factors other than vegetation, e.g., competition and/or predation by ants. Ants are thermophilic (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990), and their abundance tends to be favoured in areas of high insolation and low precipitation. Samples collected in the SBS mc2 biogeoclimactic zone within the Nadina Forest District (formerly Morice and Lakes Forest Districts) in 2005 suggest a departure from the carabid-community succession patterns observed in Alberta and Europe. We suggest the mechanism for the inconsistencies observed is due to competition or predation by the ant, Formica aserva, a ground-dwelling generalist predator, which tends to be dominant and widespread after disturbance, e.g., in regenerating stands 8 to 15 years post-harvest (R.J. Higgins, unpublished data). In terms of its behaviour and importance as a predator, this ant species is very similar to the 'red wood ants’ in the Formica rufa group, although strictly speaking it does not belong to this group. For ease of presentation, however, we will refer to it as a red wood ant in this proposal. Establishment of an ant colony takes time (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990), which is why F. aserva appears to need more than 5 years after disturbance to gain dominance. Negative correlations between carabids and red wood ants have been observed elsewhere (Koivula 2002, Reznikova and Dorosheva 2004, Hawes et al. 2004), but studies in North America have yet to be undertaken. Hawes et al. (2004) found that ants affected carabid abundance and distribution more than vegetation, and they found species-, size-, and sex-specific effects of red wood ants on ground beetles. Both ground beetles and ants can be sampled simultaneously using pitfall traps and direct sampling. Our lab has developed a cost and labour efficient pitfall trap with minimal non-target impacts (Lemieux and Lindgren 1999, Pearce et al. 2005) which is ideal for this research. There is a large body of knowledge about responses of carabids to anthropogenic disturbances at various scales. Considerable investment has already been placed on the development of carabids as bioindicators in British Columbia. Almost all research on the use of carabids have considered them in isolation from other organisms which may impact on their abundance and distribution. Before generally accepting the utility of carabids as indicators of various ecological, environmental and biodiversity values, therefore, there is a need to enhance our knowledge of factors other than vegetation and habitat features that may influence their distribution, abundance and species composition. Therefore, we intend to assess the impact of red wood ants on carabid communities in post-harvest areas.
Contact: Lindgren, Staffan, (250) 960-5846,


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Updated August 16, 2010 

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