Public Release: 

Retention forestry now sparing trees and benefitting biodiversity worldwide

A worldwide assessment finds that sparing some trees during harvesting is reducing conflicts between conservation and production in all major terrestrial biomes

American Institute of Biological Sciences

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The management practice known as retention forestry, which involves deliberately leaving selected trees standing when wood is harvested, has spread to forests over much of the world and is bringing broad benefits to conservation, according to an assessment published in the July 2012 issue of BioScience. The study, by an international group of researchers headed by Lena Gustafsson of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, concludes that the practice can complement reserve-based conservation in landscapes with widely varying histories, by preserving the complexity associated with natural forests. This contrasts with the ecological simplification that usually results from traditional industrial forest management.

Retention forestry started 25 years ago in northwestern North America under the names of "new forestry" and "green-tree retention." Both live and dead trees may be retained, with a preference for large specimens and for rare species. The practice brings a variety of benefits: it maintains the supply of ecosystem services, increases public acceptance of harvesting, and ensures the continuity of key habitat components, for example, with corresponding benefits for tree-dwelling plants, wood-inhabiting insects, and fungi. Retention forestry also has fewer off-site impacts than traditional industrial forest management and brings aesthetic benefits.

Retention forestry has not yet been fully implemented in tropical forests, although some elements of it are present. Elsewhere, forestry companies have often taken a lead role in developing the retention approach, especially in parts of the United States, Australia, Canada, and several European countries. Certification by organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council, as well as legal policy instruments, has helped advance the practice.

The BioScience authors maintain that a minimum of 5 to 10 percent of trees should be retained in proper retention forestry. But more research is needed to learn how best to practice it in different areas and when different requirements predominate. There is also an urgent need to understand better the effects of retention forestry on flows of water and nutrients.


BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS; BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is a meta-level organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents nearly 160 member societies and organizations. The article by Gustafsson and colleagues can be accessed ahead of print at until early July.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the July, 2012 issue of BioScience is as follows. These are now published ahead of print.

Retention Forestry to Maintain Multifunctional Forests: A World Perspective.
Lena Gustafsson, Susan C. Baker, Jürgen Bauhus, William J. Beese, Angus Brodie, Jari Kouki, David B. Lindenmayer, Asko Lõhmus, Guillermo Martínez Pastur, Christian Messier, Mark Neyland, Brian Palik, Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, W. Jan A. Volney, Adrian Wayne, and Jerry F. Franklin

By the Numbers: How is Recovery Defined by the US Endangered Species Act?
Maile C. Neel, Allison K. Leidner, Aaron Haines, Dale D. Goble, and J. Michael Scott

Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Ecosystem Services in Europe: The Case of Pest Control by Vertebrates.
Emilio Civantos, Wilfried Thuiller, Luigi Maiorano, Antoine Guisan, and Miguel B. Araújo

Cyberinfrastructure for observatory and monitoring Networks: a Case Study from the TEAM Network.
Chaitan Baru, Eric H. Fegraus, Sandy J. Andelman, Sandeep Chandra, Kate Kaya, Kai Lin, and Choonhan Youn

Large-Scale Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Can Local Disturbance Affect Distant Ecosystems through Migratory Shorebirds?
Jessica R. Henkel, Bryan J. Sigel, and Caz M. Taylor

Critical Habitat and the Role of Peer Review in Government Decisions.
D. Noah Greenwald, Kieran F. Suckling, and Stuart L. Pimm

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