Landscape-scale disturbances and changes in bird communities of boreal mixed-wood forests.
Pierre Drapeau, Alain Leduc, Jean-François Giroux, Jean-Pierre Savard, Yves Bergeron, W.-L. Vickery.
Bird community response to both landscape-scale and local (forest types) changes in forest cover was studied in three boreal mixed-wood forest landscapes modified by different types of disturbances: (1) a pre-industrial landscape where human settlement, agriculture, and logging activities date back to the early 1930s, (2) an industrial timber managed forest, and (3) a forest dominated by natural disturbances. Birds were sampled at 459 sampling stations distributed among the three landscapes. Local habitat and landscape characteristics of the context surrounding each sampling station (500-m and 1-km radius) were also computed. Bird communities were influenced by landscape-scale changes in forest cover. The higher proportion of early-successional habitats in both human-disturbed landscapes resulted in significantly higher abundance of early-successional bird species and generalists. The mean number of mature forest bird species was significantly lower in the industrial and pre-industrial landscapes than in the natural landscape. Landscape-scale conversion of mature forests from mixed-wood to deciduous cover in human-disturbed landscapes was the main cause of changes in mature forest bird communities. In these landscapes, the abundance of species associated with mixed and coniferous forest cover was lower, whereas species that preferred a deciduous cover were more abundant. Variation in bird community composition determined by the landscape context was as important as local habitat conditions, suggesting that predictions on the regional impact of forest management on songbirds with models solely based on local scale factors could be misleading. Patterns of bird species composition were related to several landscape composition variables (proportions of forest types), but not to configuration variables (e.g., interior habitat, amount of edge). Overall, our results indicated that the large-scale conversion of the southern portion of the boreal forest from a mined to a deciduous cover may be one of the most important threats to the integrity of bird communities in these forest mosaics. Negative effects of changes in bird communities could be attenuated if current forestry practices are modified toward maintaining forest types (deciduous, mixed-wood, and coniferous) at levels similar to those observed under natural disturbances.