There is a critical gap in our knowledge about sustainable forest management in order to maintain biodiversity with respect to allocating conservation efforts between production forests and set-asides. Field studies on this question are notably scarce on species-rich, poorly detectable taxon groups. On the basis of forest lichen surveys in Estonia, we assessed the following: (i) how much production stands contribute to maintaining the full species pool and (ii) how forest habitat conditions affect this contribution for habitat specialist species. The field material was collected in a “semi-natural forestry” system, which mitigates negative environmental impacts of even-aged forestry and forestry drainage by frequently using natural regeneration, tree retention, and low intensity of thinnings. We performed standard-effort surveys of full assemblages of lichens and allied fungi (such as non-lichenized calicioid and lichenicolous fungi) and measured stand structure in 127 2 ha plots, in mainland Estonia. The plots represented four management stages (old growth, mature preharvest forests, clear-cut sites with retention trees, and clear-cut sites without retention trees). The 369 recorded species represent an estimated 70% of the full species pool studied. Our main finding was that production forests supported over 80% of recorded species, but only one-third appears tolerant of management intensification. The landscape-scale potential of production forests through biodiversity-friendly silviculture is approximately twice as high as the number of tolerant species and, additionally, many very rare species depend on setting aside their scattered localities. The potential is much smaller at the scale of individual stands. The scale effect emerges because multiple stands contribute different sets of sensitive and infrequent species. When the full potential of production forests is realized, the role of reserves is to protect specific old-growth dependent taxa (15% to 20% of the species pool). Our study highlights that production forests form a heterogeneous and dynamic target for addressing the biodiversity conservation principle of sustainable forest management.
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