Tropical terrestrial environments are becoming dominated by anthropogenic land-uses, making retention of biodiversity in production landscapes of critical conservation importance. Native timber plantations may represent a land-use capable of balancing production and conservation by potentially supporting understorey plant and tree species otherwise restricted to old-growth forests, with little impact on yield. In this study we investigated the conservation value of native plantation forests in the lowlands of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. We compared the composition of tree species (⩾10 cm DBH) of unlogged forest to those of different aged native Eucalyptus deglupta plantations and intervening (historically logged) secondary forests. We found a high capacity for biodiversity conservation within plantations, with 70% of forest tree species persisting in mature plantations (13–15 years old). However, compositional analyses revealed lower numbers of large individuals (⩾10 cm DBH) in both late-successional and non-vertebrate-dispersed species in the plantations, indicating the difficulty of retaining mature old-growth forest trees in production land-uses. Secondary forest protected by conservation reserves was compositionally indistinct to unlogged forest. Our results demonstrate the potential for tropical native timber plantations to contribute to the retention of biodiversity. However, appropriate management is required to ensure the persistence of source populations of old-growth forest tree species. With careful planning a balance between production and conservation can be achieved in lowland tropical regions.