Regenerating clearcuts combined with postharvest forestry treatments promote habitat for breeding and post-breeding spruce-fir avian assemblages in the Atlantic Northern Forest

Regenerating clearcuts combined with postharvest forestry treatments promote habitat for breeding and post-breeding spruce-fir avian assemblages in the Atlantic Northern Forest

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Publication date: 1 November 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 427
Author(s): Brian W. Rolek, Daniel J. Harrison, Cynthia S. Loftin, Petra B. Wood

The quantity of spruce-fir forest and some conifer-associated breeding bird abundances in the Atlantic Northern Forest have declined in recent decades emphasizing the need to better understand avian responses to forest management and to identify options that proactively conserve habitat for birds during the breeding and post-breeding period. We conducted avian point counts and vegetation surveys on publicly and privately-owned lands with known management histories to assess relationships between avian assemblages in harvest and postharvest treatments that could provide habitat for passerine birds associated with the spruce-fir forest type. We sampled regenerating conifer-dominated stands 5–41 years-since-harvest (YSH) in three harvest treatments (selection, irregular first-stage shelterwood, and clearcuts) and three postharvest treatments including regenerating clearcuts treated with aerially applied herbicide (e.g., glyphosate), precommercial thinning (PCT), both herbicide and PCT, and mature stands (≥48 YSH). Spruce-fir obligate and associate birds were more abundant in stands with greater spruce-fir tree composition (≥70% and ≥60%, respectively). Avian richness of spruce-fir obligates, associates, and species of concern was greater in clearcuts and clearcuts with postharvest treatments. Vegetative features associated with greater richness and abundance of spruce-fir birds, such as greater spruce-fir composition and smaller tree diameter at breast height, were prominent in regenerating clearcuts and postharvest treatments and suggested that these management practices promote local abundances and richness of spruce-fir birds. Richness and abundances of spruce-fir birds were least in selection, shelterwood, and mature stands, and vegetative features associated with greater richness and abundance of spruce-fir birds were diminished in these stands. Forestry trends in Maine indicate that the extent of the clearcut suite of treatments has decreased on the landscape while selection and shelterwood harvests have increased. Thus, changes in incentives for managers to apply even-aged management coupled with post-harvest applications of herbicides or precommercial thinning might mitigate further declines in habitat for spruce-fir passerines assemblages. A greater ratio of clearcuts with postharvest treatments 11–40 YSH compared to other treatments (mature forest ≥48 YSH, selection and shelterwood 5–41 YSH) would maintain diverse spruce-fir bird communities on the landscape. Use of clearcuts with postharvest treatments in the hemiboreal forests of northern New England, southern Quebec, and Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada may enhance habitat for breeding and post-breeding spruce-fir birds, especially where the quantity of conifer forests are declining and residual patches of conifers are increasingly fragmented.

Graphical abstract

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Superforest

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