Data from: Northern flickers only work when they have to: how individual traits, population size and landscape disturbances affect excavation rates of an ecosystem engineer
Wiebe, Karen; Wiebe, Karen L. (2016), Data from: Northern flickers only work when they have to: how individual traits, population size and landscape disturbances affect excavation rates of an ecosystem engineer, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3v60n
Woodpeckers are considered ecosystem engineers because they excavate tree cavities which are used subsequently by many species of secondary cavity nesters for breeding. Woodpeckers have the choice of excavating a new hole or reusing an existing one, and this propensity to excavate (e) may affect community dynamics but has rarely been investigated. Using 18 years of data on a population of northern flickers Colaptes auratus, I tested six hypotheses to explain the propensity to excavate (e) in a landscape which experienced two types of disturbance: pine beetles and wildfires. Woodpecker age, breeding experience and mate retention had little influence on e which varied between 13-39% annually and averaged 23% for 1843 first nests over the 18 years. Body size and body condition of males and females were not associated with e but rates of excavation declined seasonally, suggesting time rather than energy costs limited excavation effort. Reduced cavity availability mediated through high conspecific density coupled with wildfires triggered relatively high excavation rates, up to 39% but e decreased to baseline levels three years after the landscape disturbances. Nearly 2/3 of males did not excavate in their lifetime but apparently, e is great enough to balance the average rate of cavity tree loss in this forest which is 11% annually. Excavation propensity in flickers is flexible, but the birds reduce their work levels if there is a surplus of holes available.