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Appropriate conservation management of old-forest species depends on the causes of their old-forest affinity, which, however, are insufficiently known. Calicioid fungi are often considered old-forest dependent because of their special requirements for microhabitat, microclimate, and stand continuity for at least two tree generations. We demonstrate that, for several methodological or interpretational problems, published studies do not provide unequivocal evidence for such mechanisms and even for old-forest dependency of calicioids in general. We then analyse a large Estonian dataset (ca. 2300 records of 32 species) representing various management types and site types to answer whether old forests have more calicioid species, and any specific species, than could be expected for the substratum availability observed. Although old growth had more species and records than mature managed stands or cutover sites, those substratum types that occurred at roughly similar abundances also hosted comparable numbers of species in different management types. The characteristic substrata adding extra species to old growth were snags and root-plates of treefall mounds; wood surfaces in general comprised more than half of all calicioid records. Although substratum abundance did not fully explain the species-richness contrast between old growth and mature stands, additional evidence suggested that the unexplained variance is rather due to small-scale habitat characteristics than stand-scale continuity or microclimate. Finally, we review the evidence for old-forest affinity of calicioid species and distinguish a set of threatened species. We conclude that the availability of specific substrata is the main limiting factor for calicioid fungi in forests, and its quantitative and stochastic nature explains the large random and region-specific variation in the published lists of ‘old-forest species’.