A Life Sciences graduate from the University of Lincoln, UK, has been awarded the chair’s prize for the best paper of 2013 to be published in the international journal of student research.

Richard Sands, who gained a First Class honours degree in Conservation Biology, conducted research into whether the type of woodstack created in managed forests has any effect on the biodiversity of invertebrates living in them.

The resulting paper has been published in Bioscience Horizons.

Woodstacks have the potential to provide habitat for entire communities of species associated with dead wood. The European Environment Agency suggests that having dead wood in a habitat is a long-term indicator of biodiversity. This addition of dead wood is seen as a highly significant factor in reducing the rate of decline in biodiversity

However, reduced quantities of dead wood in managed forests have resulted in a reduction in the abundance and diversity of invertebrates that feed on decaying wood (saproxylic), to the extent that many are now considered red list species. To mitigate against this loss, one conservation measure is the provision of dead wood, in the form of piles of chopped logs.

However, the value of different woodstack types to invertebrate conservation has rarely been quantified and there is little consensus on how to best to survey the invertebrate fauna of woodstacks.

Richard’s study, which took place at North Wood in the grounds of Riseholme Park, Lincoln, sampled the invertebrate fauna of three types of sycamore woodstack – 10 logs, 20 logs and 10 scorched logs; plus a control woodstack made of uPVC plastic piping.

In conclusion, Richard, who is now studying for a PhD at the University of Southampton, said: “The results of this study show that constructing woodstacks in broadleaved woodland is effective in providing habitats for a variety of invertebrates. However, these invertebrates may have simply used the structures for shelter and the true value with saproxylic invertebrates could not be measured in this 4-week study.

“The study revealed no effect of the woodstack type on the overall invertebrate abundance. But it did show that plastic ‘woodstacks’ are valuable habitats in their own right, supporting a diverse range of orders, and that invertebrates will utilise structures for hunting or shelter regardless of the material used.”

To fully appreciate the conservation value of woodstacks will require longer term studies that examine how and when saproxylic invertebrates use dead and decaying wood.

Richard J Sands ‘Effect of woodstack structure on invertebrate abundance and diversity’ Bioscience Horizons 10.1093/biohorizons/hzt004