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Pre-fire forest conditions and fire severity as determinants of the quality of burned forests for deadwood-dependent species: the case of the black-backed woodpecker

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Burned forests represent high-quality habitats for many deadwood-dependent species. Yet, post-fire conditions may vary greatly within and among burns and thereby may affect habitat suitability for these species. We studied habitat selection of nesting black-backed woodpeckers ( Picoides arcticus Swainson) in recently burned spruce-dominated boreal forests. Our objectives were to (i) identify factors involved in snag selection for both nesting and foraging and (ii) examine selection of nest sites within the burned landscape. A total of 92 nests and 1612 foraging observations were used to investigate snag selection. Our results show that both pre-fire forest conditions and fire severity are important in determining the quality of burned forests for black-backed woodpeckers. This species selected large snags for both nesting (>20 cm DBH) and foraging (>15 cm DBH). Woodpeckers selected deciduous and degraded “pre-fire” snags for nesting whereas black spruce snags that had been created by fire and that were moderately burned were preferred for foraging. Nest sites were concentrated in burned mature stands and supported higher densities of large snags (e.g., >15 cm DBH). Our results suggest that burned forest patches of at least 20 ha and composed mainly of burned mature and old-growth forests should be maintained during post-fire harvesting. The decrease in the amount of late seral stands in managed forest landscapes raises concerns about the future availability of high-quality burned forests for this species.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 28, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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