Breeding bird response to pine- savanna and woodland restoration in the Ozark-Ouachita interior highlands
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Savanna and woodland communities have experienced drastic losses in the Midwest within the past century and many early-successional bird species have also experienced sharp population declines as well. Pine- savanna and woodland restoration efforts have increased in the region within recent years, and understanding breeding bird response to this restoration is critical for management strategies to be effective. Most focus in the Midwestern states has been on oak-dominated communities, not pine; therefore, its effect on the breeding bird community is comparatively unknown. Our objectives were to 1) determine species density in relation to management type, frequency, and extent as well as the resulting vegetation from management activities and 2) estimate reproductive success for six species with varying natural histories in relation to temporal, vegetation, and management variables in restored savanna and woodland in Missouri. We conducted point count surveys for 19 species across the gradient of savanna, woodland, and forest in restored and non-restored areas throughout the OzarkOuachita Highlands in parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma during the 2013-2015 breeding seasons. We estimated densities using distance sampling to account for detection probability and determined relationships with management and vegetation covariates by evaluating support for a priori models. In general, densities of early-successional and generalist species were positively related, and interior-forest species negatively related to restoration. Many species had higher densities in areas with less canopy cover, tree density, and forest cover. Densities of Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla), Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus), Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor), Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), and Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens) were positively related to prescribed fire activity. Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera), Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa), and Yellow-breasted Chat densities were positively related to tree thinning. Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), and Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) were negatively related to restoration treatments and preferred areas with higher tree density and canopy cover. Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), and Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) showed inconclusive, mixed, or weak results. Restored sites provided breeding habitat for disturbance-dependent species and woodland generalists, some of which are species of conservation concern.
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