Plantation and secondary forests form increasingly important components of the global forest cover, but our current knowledge about their potential contribution to biodiversity conservation is limited. We surveyed understory plant and carabid species assemblages at three distinct regions in temperate northeastern China, dominated by mature forest (Changbaishan Nature Reserve, sampled in 2011 and 2012), secondary forest (Dongling Mountain, sampled in 2011 and 2012), and forest plantation habitats (Bashang Plateau, sampled in 2006 and 2007), respectively. The α‐diversity of both taxonomic groups was highest in plantation forests of the Bashang Plateau. Beetle α‐diversity was lowest, but plant and beetle species turnover peaked in the secondary forests of Dongling Mountain, while habitats in the Changbaishan Nature Reserve showed the lowest turnover rates for both taxa. Changbaishan Nature Reserve harbored the highest proportion of forest specialists. Our results suggest that in temperate regions of northern China, the protected larch plantation forest established over extensive areas might play a considerable role in maintaining a high biodiversity in relation to understory herbaceous plant species and carabid assemblages, which can be seen as indicators of forest disturbance. The high proportion of phytophagous carabids and the rarity of forest specialists reflect the relatively homogenous, immature status of the forest ecosystems on the Bashang Plateau. China's last remaining large old‐growth forests like the ones on Changbaishan represent stable, mature ecosystems which require particular conservation attention.