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Dry conifer forest restoration benefits Colorado Front Range avian communities

Citation

Latif, Quresh; Truex, Rick; Sparks, Rob; Pavlacky, David (2020), Dry conifer forest restoration benefits Colorado Front Range avian communities, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.q573n5tfm

Abstract

Fire suppression has increased stand density and risk of severe, stand-replacing wildfire in lower elevation dry conifer forests of western North America, threatening ecological function. The U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) aims to mitigate impacts to ecological function, while mandating effectiveness monitoring to verify restoration success. Expected benefits include improved conditions for biodiversity, but relatively few empirical studies evaluate restoration effects on biodiversity. We applied the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions program to survey birds in relation to CFLRP treatments along the Colorado Front Range in 2015–2017. We employed hierarchical models to analyze species occupancy and richness at 292 points nested within 54 1km2 grid cells. Our objectives were to investigate 1) species occupancy relationships with treatments at local (point) and landscape (grid) spatial scales, 2) potential mechanisms for treatment relationships considering species and treatment relationships with forest structure and composition (i.e., habitat relationships), and 3) treatment and habitat relationships with species richness. The data supported positive and negative point-level treatment relationships, suggesting uneven species distributions between treated and untreated points. At the grid scale, however, we only found positive species relationships with percent area treated, and accordingly, grid-level species richness increased with treatment extent. Potential mechanisms for treatment relationships included treatments generating foraging opportunities for aerial insectivores by opening the canopy, improving conditions for ground-associated species by increasing herbaceous growth, and limiting opportunities for shrub-nesting species by reducing shrub cover. Landscape-scale patterns suggest CFLRP treatments can benefit avian communities by generating habitat for open-forest species without necessarily eliminating habitat for closed-forest species. Our results provide evidence for a commonly expected but rarely verified pattern of increased species richness with forest heterogeneity. We suggest restoration treatments will most benefit forest bird diversity by reducing canopy cover, encouraging herbaceous ground cover, limiting ladder fuel species, and encouraging shrub diversity in canopy openings, while maintaining some dense forest stands on the landscape.