How much do site age, habitat structure and spatial isolation influence the restoration of rainforest beetle species assemblages?
Reforestation has been suggested as a way to mitigate the effects of tropical rain forest loss. However, factors influencing the successful colonisation of biota into newly created rainforest are poorly understood. We assessed beetle species assemblages with flight interception traps, in sites undergoing rainforest restoration across the largely cleared landscape of the Atherton Tablelands in north-eastern Queensland, Australia. There were two levels of site age (2-4 years and 6-17 years) and two distances from intact rainforest (adjacent and >0.9 km), with six sites in each treatment, together with six reference sites in each of pasture and small rainforest remnants (n = 36 sites). Multivariate metrics were used to assess the restored sites' relative similarity to pasture and rainforest, in terms of both physical habitat structure and beetle species composition within ten family groups. Older restoration sites were structurally most similar to rainforest. Older sites and those adjacent to rainforest had a more rainforest-like beetle species composition (without significant interaction). However, even the closer and older sites had a substantially lower abundance and richness of rainforest-associated beetles than did rainforest. Age effects were generally stronger than distance effects, with the latter appearing to be entirely driven by rare rainforest species. Beetle assemblage similarity to rainforest was more strongly correlated with structural similarity to rainforest than with age, except within older sites. The use of revegetation techniques which lead to more rainforest-like structural conditions appears to be of over-riding importance in catalysing the rapid acquisition of volant rainforest beetle assemblages in the initial stages of restoration.