Forests and woodlands with a long, uninterrupted presence (continuity) are often associated with high biodiversity and many habitat specialist species. But the mechanisms by which, and the scales in time and space at which, populations are dependent on continuity remain debated. We examine the spatial and temporal scales at which occurrences of plants, fungi, and invertebrates are affected by continuity and consider whether they are restricted by time for colonization (continuity per se) or by habitat formation times. We give improved definitions of landscape and local levels of continuity and evaluate the empirical literature with respect to these. By critically examining the reported effects of continuity on the occurrence of species in forests and woodlands, we explore the mechanisms behind the patterns at local and landscape scales. We conclude that many species are dispersal-limited in the current fragmented landscapes and occur mainly in landscapes with surplus continuity, meaning that the availability of habitats was greater in the past than it is currently. Our review indicates that local continuity per se is important at least for many forest herbs and for certain species of epiphytic lichens, insects, and land snails, but to a lesser extent for fungi. Several studies show that landscape-level continuity affects the current occurrence of species, in particular for vascular plants, but also for particular lichen, bryophyte, and invertebrate species. For continuity-dependent species, a successful conservation strategy should include both extending the period of habitat duration in relict patches and promoting habitat formation in the immediate surroundings of potential source patches. Conservation strategies need to acknowledge the continuity dependence of many species. Research on how to shorten habitat formation times by forest restoration is an urgent priority.
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Vol. 21 • No. 1