Trainee Ecologist Helen Dickinson has been out and about at our Abernethy reserve searching for deadwood beetles.
Abernethy – Deadwood is good wood!
As an Ecologist trainee within the Scottish Reserves Ecology team, I get to spend time in some of the amazing wild spaces that Scotland and the RSPB have to offer. Most recently I have been working from Forest Lodge at the RSPB Abernethy Forest Reserve in the Cairngorms. My work here focuses on deadwood beetles in different areas of the forest, from ancient native Caledonian forests to 1970’s Scot’s pine plantations.
Deadwood is a hugely important habitat for a wide range of invertebrates. Specialised species are often rare due to the absence of good quality deadwood habitat within woodlands. Historically, foresters removed deadwood for silvicutural purposes due to concerns about insect disease and fungal pathogens. In Abernethy Forest a programme of deadwood creation is part of the site management plan to try and address the balance, specifically in old plantation areas with the aim of restoring them to a more natural structure.
Both standing and fallen deadwood have an important role to play in woodland ecosystems and a small proportion of trees have been treated in a number of different ways to increase deadwood volumes. Scot’s pine trees have been chainsawed at various heights, whinched over, ring barked and all left in situ to create an assortment of deadwood habitat. This variety is required to enhance invertebrate diversity as certain species colonise deadwood at varying stages of decay.
Deadwood plays a crucial role in the deadwood beetle lifecycle both as food and accomodation for the larval and pupal forms. Beetles may spend years in the deadwood from egg to adult. Wood is not the most nutritious of food stuffs so development can be a lengthy process. This also means that finding deadwood beetles can be a tricky business. Evidence of larval chambers is a good sign of deadwood beetle activity. Patterns can vary with species, particularly with Bark beetles and some can be surprisingly beautiful.
Another tell tale sign is bark with emergence holes. Once pupation has taken place adults will chew their way out to freedom and head of into the big wide world of the forest.
Although I am looking specifically for deadwood beetles, I have had the pleasure of seeing many other species, not so specialist but still a real treat to find and I wanted to share some images of several of the bigger beetles found at Abernethy.
Carabus glabratus is a really easy beetle to spot and commonly seen at Abernethy this time of year, ambling across tracks and vegetation. One of the larger ground beetles (Carabids), measuring up to 30mm, this species can be found in damp moorland and forest habitats and close family members including the Violet Ground Beetle (Carabus violaceus), which has a fantastic violet sheen, can be found in most gardens.
Another easily spotted species is the Dor beetle (Anoplotrupes stercorosus), one of the UK’s scarab beetles, which feeds on dung and decaying plant matter. This species is out in abundance in the forests of Abernethy at the moment. If you’re lucky enough to see one that has flipped over onto its back (accidently of course) you will discover that despite its dull black upper side its underside is highly metallic blue/purple.