European forest management guidelines include conservation and enhancement of biodiversity. Within plantation forestry, trackways provide contiguous permanent open-habitat with potential to enhance biodiversity. We examined the ground-active spider assemblage in the trackway network of Thetford Forest, Eastern England, the largest lowland conifer forest in the UK, created by afforestation of heathland and farmland. Results are relevant to other forests in heath regions across Europe. We used pitfall trapping to sample the spider assemblage of trackways within thicket-aged stands (n = 17), mature stands (n = 13) and heathland reference sites (n = 9). A total of 9,314 individuals of 71 species were recorded. Spider assemblages of the trackway network were distinct from those of the heathland reference sites; however, trackways were found to support specialist species associated with grass-heath habitats, including nationally scarce species. Richness of grass-heath species was similar for trackways in thicket-aged forest and heathland reference sites, although the abundance of individuals was three times greater in the reference sites. Trackways in mature stands had lower grass-heath species richness and abundance than both thicket trackways and heath reference sites. Wide trackways within thicket stands contained greater richness and abundance of specialist xeric species than narrower trackways. However, fewer xeric individuals were found in trackways compared to heathland reference sites. Either inferior habitat quality in trackways or poor dispersal ability of specialist xeric species may largely restrict these to relict areas of heathland. Targeted widening of trackways to allow permanent unshaded habitat and creating early successional stages by mechanical disturbance regimes could improve trackway suitability for specialist species, helping to restore connectivity networks for grass-heath biodiversity.
- Forest management
- Ecological networks