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Thresholds in Forest Bird Response to Habitat Alteration as Quantitative Targets for Conservation

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Abstract:  The notion that species might exhibit thresholds in their response to habitat alteration is appealing from a conservation perspective. Such thresholds could be used as targets for conservation in managed landscapes. In New Brunswick, Canada, forest management produces mosaics of varying stand age, species composition, and structure. We sampled this gradient in habitat suitability to examine the shape of species response functions and to look for evidence of statistically significant thresholds. We focused our attention on bird species breeding in late‐seral forest and surveyed them at 390 point‐count stations sampling broad‐leaved deciduous to pure coniferous stands and a variety of silvicultural treatments (patch cutting, single‐tree selection, spruce plantation [35–45 years old], and no recent treatment). A principal components analysis (PCA) on local vegetation separated stations along two axes reflecting gradients in stand composition and habitat alteration (increasingly open canopy and decreasing density of large trees/snags), respectively. We combined logistic regression and receiver‐operating characteristic (ROC) analysis to detect thresholds in species occurrence along these gradients. Of the 42 species frequent enough to be included in the analyses, 13 (31%) showed a significant (p < 0.01) negative response to habitat alteration. Eight of the 13 species sensitive to habitat alteration exhibited thresholds in their occurrence after controlling for the suitability of local habitat. According to curves of the expected number of sensitive species (based on their ROC‐derived thresholds), canopy closure and the density of large trees (>30 cm dbh) should be at least 70% and 80 stems/ha, respectively, to expect to find the complete assemblage of bird species. However, these values should be viewed as liberal, given the nature of our response variable. More refined (e.g., fitness) parameters should be used to be conservative. Nonetheless, the approach allowed us to establish preliminary quantitative targets for conservation planning based on time‐efficient sampling methods, and to explicitly account for the continuous variability existing within and among silvicultural treatments rather than to assume homogeneity within treatments.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Chaire de recherche du Canada en conservation des paysages and Département de biologie, Université de Moncton, Moncton, Nouveau-Brunswick E1A 3E9, Canada

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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