Summary 1. The future of tropical forest species depends in part on their ability to survive in human-modified landscapes. Forest strips present a priority area for biodiversity research because they are a common feature of many managed landscapes, are often afforded a high level of legal protection, and can provide a cost-effective and politically acceptable conservation strategy. 2. Despite the potential conservation benefits that could be provided by forest strips, ecologists currently lack sufficient evidence to inform policy and guide their design and management. 3. We used a quasi-experimental landscape in the Brazilian Amazon to test the importance of four management-relevant variables (forest type, isolation distance, forest structure, and large mammal activity) on the potential biodiversity conservation value of narrow forest strips for dung beetles. 4. Information-theoretic model selection based on AICc revealed strong support for the influence of large mammal activity and forest type on dung beetle abundance; isolation distance on species richness; and forest structure on the relative abundance of matrix-tolerant species. Multi-dimensional scaling showed a strong influence of forest type and isolation on community composition and structure, with riparian and dry-land strips having complementary sets of species. 5. Synthesis and applications. To enhance the conservation value and ecological integrity of forest strips in human-modified landscapes we recommend that strip design considers both isolation distance and whether or not the strips encompass perennial streams. In addition, we identify the maintenance of forest structure and the protection of large mammal populations as being crucially important for conserving forest dung beetle communities.