Ann. Zool. Fennici 43: 86–95 ISSN 0003-455X
Helsinki 28 April 2006 © Finnish Zoological and Botanical Publishing Board 2006
Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation, and research in
a global perspective
Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Department of Conservation Biology, Swedish University of
Agricultural Sciences, SE-730 91 Riddarhyttan, Sweden (e-mail: email@example.com)
Received 7 Oct. 2005, revised version received 6 Mar. 2006, accepted 6 Feb. 2006
Mikusiński, G. 2006: Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation, and research in a global perspec-
tive. — Ann. Zool. Fennici 43: 86–95.
The main aim of this paper is to examine and discuss the global pattern of woodpecker
diversity from a conservation perspective. In addition, I review ecological traits and the
conservation status of the entire family Picidae, and relate these factors to the human
driven change in their habitats. Finally, I present a global overview of the research on
woodpeckers in order to identify the major gaps in our knowledge which render the
management of populations of these species difﬁcult. The hotspots of woodpecker spe-
cies richness identiﬁed by GIS were found in tropical and subtropical forests of South-
East Asia, South and Central America, and equatorial Africa. Most of these hotspots
were located in developing countries. However, almost 90% of articles published in
1985–2004 encompassed studies performed in North America and Europe, that is, in
geographic areas harbouring only 17% of the global number of Picidae species.
The family Picidae, which encompasses wood-
peckers, wrynecks, and piculets contains ca. 216
closely related species, all with strong ties to
forest environments. Trees, snags and logs are
primary substrates providing nesting sites, shel-
ter, and food for the majority of woodpeckers
(Winkler et al. 1995). One striking feature of
woodpeckers is their ability to excavate cavi-
ties in living and dead trees (Winkler & Christie
2002). Due to this “engineering activity”, wood-
peckers have been proposed as key-stone spe-
cies in several communities with large numbers
of secondary cavity nesters (Daily et al. 1993,
Jones et al. 1995, Conner et al. 2004, Martin
et al. 2004, Ojeda 2004). Moreover, facultative
sap-consuming species are also beneﬁted by
their drilling for phloem sap and thus their activ
ities can inﬂuence entire community structures
(Blendinger 1999, Schlatter & Vergara 2005).
Through wood excavation activities, including
nest construction and foraging, woodpeckers
play a role in wood decomposition processes
(Farris et al. 2004). It has also been suggested
that woodpeckers function as dispersal vectors
for wood-living fungi (Jackson & Jackson 2004).
It is quite apparent from these relationships that
this avian family plays a signiﬁcant ecological
role in forest environments and communities.
Woodpeckers occur in all types of forest
and woodland and are found on all continents
except of Australia and Antarctica (Winkler et
al. 2005). Woodpeckers are virtually absent from
treeless landscapes such as desert, tundra and
alpine areas. In addition, most isolated islands
ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43 • Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation and research 87
lack woodpeckers. Most woodpeckers are sed-
entary birds and are generally considered to be
relatively poor dispersers (e.g. Higuchi & Koike
1978). Blackburn et al. (1998) conducted a global
analysis and found that body mass of woodpeck-
ers was rather weakly correlated with the size of
their geographic ranges. Blackburn et al. (1998)
found that woodpecker geographic range sizes
decreased with increased woodpecker species
richness and that species living in high latitudes
tended to be more widely distributed. Interest-
ingly, the best predictor of species richness for
woodpeckers was the area of a given geographic
region; smaller regions had more woodpecker
species and more endemics.
Several species of woodpeckers have expe-
rienced dramatic population declines and range
contractions due to habitat loss and degradation
through various human activities (Winkler &
Christie 2002). This applies to large, area-sen-
sitive species such as the ivory-billed wood-
pecker (Campephilus principalis) or imperial
woodpecker (C. imperialis) that depend upon
vast areas of unmanaged forest as well as small
but highly specialised species such as the red-
cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) or
South American piculets with small geographic
ranges. The effects of human activities on wood-
pecker assemblages have been observed at dif-
ferent scales. In a country-by-country analy-
sis, Mikusiński and Angelstam (1997, 1998),
reported negative population trends for most
European woodpeckers and related species rich-
ness to the degree of anthropogenic change for
this group of species. In a study from north-east-
ern Poland, species richness for woodpeckers
was positively correlated with the availability of
dead wood and large deciduous trees (Angelstam
et al. 2002) — factors which are closely associ-
ated with the level of naturalness of forest stands.
Strong negative correlation between woodpecker
biomass and density with logging intensity has
been found on Borneo (Lammertink 2004) and
the Malaysian peninsula (Styring & Ickes 2001).
Conner et al. (1975) reported higher diversity of
woodpecker species in uncut versus cut wood-
lands in Virginia.
Human impact on woodpecker populations
encompasses several factors. The most obvi-
ous factor for woodpeckers — as well as many
other threatened organisms — is habitat loss.
Logging of vast areas of woodland as well as
their conversion to farmland has been the major
cause of range contractions, regional extinctions,
and population declines both now and histori-
cally (Winkler & Christie 2002). Dependence of
woodpeckers on certain forest characteristics
typical for unmanaged forest (i.e. presence of
large and old trees, high structural diversity,
and presence of large quantities of dead wood)
makes them particularly susceptible to forestry
practices. Short-rotation schemes, selection of
few most productive tree species, even-age struc-
ture, removal of dead wood, active ﬁre suppres-
sion, and replacement of native tree species with
fast-growing exotics apparently degrade habi-
tat for woodpeckers (Angelstam & Mikusiński
1994). Alternatively, in areas with traditional,
low-intensity agricultural practices as is the case
in several regions of Europe, woodpeckers may
be relatively abundant in sparsely forested land-
scapes that contain elements of forest structure
such as large, older trees (Mikusiński & Angel-
stam 1997, 1998). In these areas, the clearance
and intensiﬁed use of such semi-open landscapes
poses the main threat for woodpecker species
(Tucker & Evans 1997).
The strong association that woodpeckers dis-
play with forest environments and their sensi-
tivity to structural and compositional changes
in their habitats caused by human action has
been a reason for utilizing woodpeckers in forest
and landscape management (e.g. Angelstam &
Mikusiński 1994, Diaz 1997, Hutto 1988, Jans-
son 1998, Nilsson et al. 2001, Hess & King 2002,
Lammertink 2004, Uliczka et al. 2004). Wood-
peckers may ﬁt different concepts that recom-
mend use of surrogate species in practical con-
servation. Woodpeckers have been suggested as
indicators for forest biodiversity (Mikusiński &
Angelstam 1998, Nilsson et al. 2001). It has been
argued that since several woodpecker species
display a highly specialised selection of resources
that are typical of naturally dynamic forests (e.g.
dead wood, big and old trees) that their pres-
ence may indicate high overall biodiversity. The
empirical evidence supporting this hypothesis is
growing. Mikusiński et al. (2001) demonstrated
a strong positive relationship between the number
of woodpecker species and overall forest bird
88 Mikusiński • ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43
species richness at the landscape scale in Poland.
The lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos
minor) has been found to be a reliable indicator of
the occurrence of avian deciduous forest special-
ists in northern Europe (Jansson 1998, Roberge &
Angelstam 2006). Also tree species diversity was
found to be positively correlated with the number
of woodpecker species observed in one study
performed in south-central Sweden (Angelstam
1990). Martikainen et al. (1998) found high num-
bers of threatened wood-species beetles in areas
with white-backed woodpeckers (Dendrocopos
leucotos) in Finland and Russian Karelia.
Woodpeckers have also been proposed as
indicators of structural diversity and ecological
quality of forest habitats and as umbrella/focal
species for forest and landscape management
(McClelland & McClelland 1999, Derleth et al.
2000, Angelstam et al. 2002, Pakkala et al. 2002,
Lammertink 2004). Hess and King (2002) used
the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
as focal species of mature forest for conserva-
tion planning in North Carolina. Two species
of woodpeckers have been employed as focal
species in designing a forest habitat network
in northern Italy (Bani et al. 2002). The habi-
tat requirements of the three-toed woodpecker
(Picoides tridactylus) have been used to propose
the quantitative snag targets for the conifer-
ous forest management in Europe (Bütler et
al. 2004). In the state of Mississippi, the suc-
cessful restoration of pine-grassland habitat for
red-cockaded woodpeckers resulted in increased
diversity of bird community (Wood et al. 2004).
Moreover, woodpeckers have been used to pre-
dict the impact of forest management on wild-
life habitats (Cox & Engstrom 2001, Marzluff
2002). Angelstam et al. (2004) proposed several
woodpeckers as focal species for the assessment
of forest habitat networks in Europe applying
habitat suitability modelling. In summary, wood-
peckers are an important systematic group from
forest and landscape management perspectives
because of their sensitivity to forestry and other
anthropogenic impacts on the forest environ-
ment. It remains to be seen whether they will be
used to their full capacity as tools in forest biodi-
versity management in a global perspective.
In this paper I examine and discuss the
global pattern of woodpecker diversity from a
conservation perspective. I also review some
ecological traits and the conservation status of
the entire family Picidae and relate them to the
human driven change in their habitats. Finally,
I present a global overview of the research on
woodpeckers in order to identify the major gaps
in our knowledge.
Material and methods
Analyses in this study were performed at the
global scale. I created a spatially-explicit Geo-
graphic Information System (GIS) database on
the distribution of the breeding ranges of 216
Picidae species, including woodpeckers, wry-
necks and piculets. The source of information on
geographic ranges of species was taken from dis-
tribution maps published in Winkler and Christie
(2002). Spatial analyses were performed using
ArcView 3.2 (ESRI 2000). A set of global maps
provided with this software was used as back-
ground information during the process of digi-
talisation. In addition, information on the global
distribution of major vegetation zones was pro-
vided with this software. The spatial resolution
of the created database corresponded to a grid
with cell dimensions 1° latitude ¥ 1° longitude.
Breeding ranges of all species were manually
digitised into this grid and then summarised spa-
tially using the overlay function in vector format.
Borders between adjacent cells with the same
number of woodpecker species were then dis-
solved. This resulted in a vector-based map with
polygons with values corresponding to 1–25 spe-
Information on woodpeckers listed into dif-
ferent threat categories according to IUCN clas-
siﬁcation as well as on the numbers of wood-
pecker species present in different countries was
extracted from BirdLife International homepage
in the Search for Species mode (www.birdlife.
org/datazone/species/index.html). The data on
woodpecker’s body size and their diet was assem-
bled from Winkler and Christie (2002).
The literature survey for articles on wood-
peckers has been performed using Wildlife and
Ecology Studies Worldwide database (NISC
2005). I searched for articles that contained
at least one of following words in the title
ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43 • Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation and research 89
(translated title): woodpecker(s), wryneck(s),
piculet(s), ﬂicker(s), sapsucker(s), ﬂameback(s),
goldenback(s), yellownape(s). I covered a 20-
year period (1985–2004). All titles and abstracts
(when available) were reviewed and the follow-
ing parameters were recorded in spread sheet
format: species, year of publication, country,
continent, ﬁrst author and type of study (ecologi-
cal, behavioural, faunistic and biogeographic,
other). Publications concerning two or more spe-
cies of woodpeckers were recorded as “several
species” instead of species names. All references
that appeared two or more times in the database
were manually removed.
The map illustrating the global pattern in spe-
cies richness within family Picidae pointed to
the regions of southeast Asia and northern and
central parts of South America as species rich-
ness hotspots with at least 15 species present at
the regional level (Fig. 1). In particular, hotspots
were found in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam,
Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia in Asia, as
well as in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and
Suriname in South America. Equatorial Africa
and Central America also had relatively high
global levels of woodpecker species richness.
Among different major vegetation zones with
woody vegetation, moist broadleaved tropical
and subtropical forests had, on average, the high-
est number of woodpecker species (Fig. 2). Most
occurrences of high woodpecker species rich-
ness were found to be in economically develop-
ing countries (Fig. 3).
Ants, other arthropods, fruits and berries
were among the most commonly observed food
items taken by woodpeckers (Winkler & Chris-
Fig. 1. Global pattern of
species richness in family
Tropical and subtr.
Tropical and subtr.
and shrublands (1386)
Tropical and subtr.
mixed forests (1319)
Deserts and xeric
Mean number of species
Fig. 2. Mean number of woodpecker species in major
woody vegetation types. Number of 1 ¥ 1 geographic
degree plots representing each type in parentheses.
Bars denote 95% conﬁdence intervals of the mean.
0 5000 10000 15000 20000 25000 30000 35000 40000 45000
Gross Domestic Product in 2003 (USD)
Number of species
Fig. 3. Number of woodpecker species in countries with
different Gross National Product per capita according
to UNEP (2005). Only countries with area > 5000 km
were included (n = 135).
90 Mikusiński • ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43
tie 2002; Fig. 4). Clearly, well-described and
known species had much higher numbers of
foods listed. Interestingly, this source indicates
that the diets of 37 species (17%) are virtually
unknown to science.
In total, 25 species of Picidae are listed by
IUCN as threatened or near threatened in the
following categories: CR = 3 species, VU =
7 species, NT = 15 species (Table 1). Almost
half of them (12 species) are considered as
restricted-range species (i.e. with geographic
range < 50 000 km
). Most of the endangered
species occur in areas with generally high wood-
pecker species richness. The percentage of spe-
cies in different size classes in threatened (near
threatened) species and non-threatened catego-
ries is illustrated in Fig. 5. The proportions of
threatened (near threatened) species in differ-
ent size classes were dissimilar from those of
the remaining woodpecker species ( χ
df = 5, p = 0.044). In particular size class 10–
15 cm (containing mostly piculets) and the larg-
est woodpeckers were relatively more abundant
among threatened (near threatened) species in
comparison with the remaining species. Habitat
loss and degradation due to forest logging and
removal of wood are the major threats indicated
for all listed species. In some cases, hunting
and collecting (e.g. imperial woodpecker), forest
Fruits & berries
Seeds & nuts
Woodpecker species (%)
Fig. 4. Diet of Picidae according to species accounts in
Winkler and Christie (2002).
Table 1. Species listed by IUNC as threatened or near threatened. Categories: Critically Endangered (CR), Vulner
able (V), Near Threatened (NT). Regions: Africa (AF), Asia (AS), Latin America (LA), North America (NA).
Species Category Region Comments
Rusty-necked piculet (Picumnus fuscus) NT LA restricted-range species
Speckle-chested piculet (Picumnus steindachneri ) VU LA restricted-range species
Tawny piculet (Picumnus fulvescens) NT LA restricted-range species
Ochraceous piculet (Picumnus limae) VU LA restricted-range species
Mottled piculet (Picumnus nebulosus) NT LA
Guadeloupe woodpecker (Melanerpes herminieri ) NT LA restricted-range species
Red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) NT NA
Knysna woodpecker (Campethera notata) NT AF restricted-range species
Stierling’s woodpecker (Dendropicos stierlingi ) NT AF
Sulu woodpecker (Dendrocopos ramsayi ) VU AS restricted-range species
Arabian woodpecker (Dendrocopos dorae) VU AS
Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) VU NA
Chocó woodpecker (Veniliornis chocoensis) NT LA restricted-range species
Yellow-browed woodpecker (Piculus aurulentus) NT LA
Fernandina’s ﬂicker (Colaptes fernandinae) VU LA restricted-range species
Helmeted woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus) VU LA restricted-range species
Black-bodied woodpecker (Dryocopus schulzi ) NT LA
Andaman woodpecker (Dryocopus hodgei ) NT AS restricted-range species
Guayaquil woodpecker (Campephilus gayaquilensis) NT LA
Imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) CR LA probably extinct
Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) CR NA < 50 individuals
Red-collared woodpecker (Picus rabieri ) NT AS
Olive-backed woodpecker (Dinopium rafﬂesii ) NT AS
Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii ) CR AS restricted-range species
Buff-necked woodpecker (Meiglyptes tukki ) NT AS
ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43 • Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation and research 91
ﬁres and hurricanes (e.g. red-cockaded wood-
pecker) were considered to be additional causes
of population declines.
In total, 1252 articles on woodpeckers pub-
lished between 1985 and 2004 were found in
Wildlife and Ecology Studies Worldwide data-
base. These included 1050 single-species articles
that encompassed 65 species. Table 2 provides
the list of the 15 species with highest numbers of
articles published. I found a great disproportion
in the number of woodpecker species occurring
in Europe and North America and the number of
articles published about these species (Fig. 6).
The global pattern of species diversity in Pici-
dae generally follows the well-known latitudinal
gradient of decreasing species richness from
lower to higher latitudes (Rosenzweig 1995,
Gaston 2000). This trend conﬁrms an earlier
ﬁnding at a much more coarse resolution by
Blackburn et al. (1998). Identiﬁed hotspots of
woodpecker diversity largely overlapped with
distribution of hotspots of avian species richness
(Orme et al. 2005). In the case of woodpeck-
ers, the prerequisite for high species richness
appears to be presence of vast areas of woodland
with high structural and compositional diversity.
These environments are found mostly in tropi-
cal and subtropical moist broadleaved forests of
< 10 10–15 15–20 20–25 25–30 30–35 > 35
Body length (cm)
Woodpecker species (%)
Not threatened (%)
Fig. 5. Body length in globally threatened (near threat-
ened) vs. unthreatened species of woodpeckers.
Table 2. Species with highest number of articles pub
lished between 1985 and 2004 according to Wildlife &
Ecology Studies Worldwide database.
Species Number of articles
(Picoides borealis) 301
Great spotted woodpecker
(Dendrocopos major) 62
(Colaptes auratus) 61
(Dryocopus pileatus) 58
(Dryocopus martius) 55
(Melanerpes formicivorus) 54
Middle spotted woodpecker
(Dendrocopos medius) 40
(Dendrocopos leucotos) 36
(Melanerpes carolinus) 27
(Picoides tridactylus) 24
(Melanerpes erythrocephalus) 23
(Sphyrapicus varius) 22
(Jynx torquilla) 21
(Picoides pubescens) 20
(Melanerpes lewis) 16
Europe Asia Africa
Fig. 6. Number of articles found in Wildlife & Ecology
Studies Worldwide database (NISC 2005) and number
of woodpeckers in different regions of the world.
92 Mikusiński • ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43
south-east Asia and South America (Figs. 1 and
2). Temperate and boreal forest vegetation zones
have a moderate number of species present at
In a global perspective, arthropods clearly
dominate diets in Picidae (Fig. 4). However,
woodpecker diets also include vegetable items
such as fruit, nuts, berries and sap. I found a
relatively low proportion of species that spe-
cialised in wood-boring beetles and their larvae
(< 30% of species), the food often perceived
as most typical for woodpeckers. Interest-
ingly, ants seem to be an important ingredient
of woodpecker diets world-wide. An obvious
weakness of this analysis is that the data used
are not quantitative and thus it is difﬁcult to
know the importance of different food items
for lesser-known species. Detailed studies on
food of European woodpecker species indicate
signiﬁcant regional and seasonal variations in
diets (Cramp 1985). Information on the diet
of the great majority of woodpecker species
comes not from comprehensive foraging stud-
ies or stomach contents analyses but from more
or less incidental observations. Askins (1983)
compared foraging behaviour of 11 species of
woodpeckers in Guatemala, Maryland, and Min-
nesota and found a similar degree of specialisa-
tion in both tropical and temperate species. I
argue that with more knowledge on foraging
habits of woodpeckers we are going to see, not
only a broader spectrum of different food items
utilised by particular species, but also a clearer
pattern of seasonal and regional specialisation
and the importance of animal versus vegetarian
ingredients in diets.
Judging from the proportion of woodpecker
species listed by IUCN (11.5%), the global con-
servation status of this group of birds is not
extreme. Some other broadly distributed groups
of forest birds like parrots (Psittacidae), horn-
bills (Bucerotidae), or nuthatches (Sittidae) have
higher proportions of threatened species (40%,
39% and 27%, respectively), while others like
tits (Paridae) or wrens (Troglodytidae) have
lower proportions of threatened species (5.5%
and 9.2%, respectively). High proportions of
threatened species among parrots and hornbills
may be partly explained by the fact that these
families are nearly exclusive to the tropics where
the fastest habitat destruction is occurring. In
addition, many parrot species are small island
Does the relatively low proportion of ofﬁ-
cially listed species mean that woodpeckers as
a group of forest specialists are not particularly
threatened by recent global intensiﬁcation of log-
ging and other human-related changes affecting
forest environments? A closer look at the geo-
graphic locations of the hotspots of woodpecker
species richness may suggest the opposite. Most
hotspots are located in areas with tropical and
subtropical moist forests as the major vegeta-
tion types. Since the majority of these areas
have been recently subjected to intensive clear-
ing operations the amount and quality of avail-
able woodpecker habitat has declined drastically.
Estimated cumulative forest loss in Malaysia,
Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, countries that
harbour the majority of Asian woodpecker diver-
sity hotspots, amount to 39%, 55%, 71% and
68%, respectively (FAO 2000, Pahari & Murai
1999). These ﬁgures illustrate loss of original
forest cover but are silent on the structural and
compositional changes in managed forests that
negatively affect the quality of woodpecker habi-
tats (e.g. Lammertink 2004).
Similarly, forest loss in the South American
hotspots is drastic. In the case of Brasilian Ama-
zonia, the tropical forest area remained a largely
intact area until the inauguration of the Transa-
mazon Highway in 1970, but the pace of forest
clearing has been rapid since then (Fearnside
2005). Also, in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador the
deforestation has been a major land-use change
affecting entire regions (Pahari & Murai 1999).
In an area of over 3000 km
located at the border
between Colombia and Ecuador — within one
of the woodpecker diversity hotspots — Viña
et al. (2004) estimated with the use of satellite
images the deforestation rate during a 23-yr
period at 43% and 22% on the Colombian and
Ecuadorian sides of the border, respectively.
The establishment of protected areas (PA) in
woodpecker diversity hotspots is not necessarily
securing the maintenance of their natural habi-
tats. In protected areas in south-western Borneo
(Kalimantan) for example, the lowland forest
cover declined by 56% (29 000 km
) from 1985
to 2001 (Curran et al. 2004).
ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43 • Woodpeckers: distribution, conservation and research 93
I predict that a clear positive relationship
between the deforestation rate and human popu-
lation density (Pahari & Murai 1999), consid-
ered together with high annual human popula-
tion growth (> 1.5%) in the woodpecker-richest
countries, may lead to a rapid increase in the
number of globally threatened species of Picidae
in the near future. Cincotta et al. (2000) found
that human population growth in global biodi-
versity hotspots is substantially above that of
developing countries in general, and predicted
that human-induced changes negatively affecting
biodiversity are likely to continue in these areas.
Regional extinctions and population contractions
of woodpecker species related to socio-economic
development resulting in forest loss and degra-
dation have been described from temperate and
subtropical zones (e.g. Pettersson 1984, Virkkala
et al. 1993, Jackson 1994, Mikusiński & Angel-
stam 1997, 1998). Since the rapid deforestation
of areas with highest woodpecker diversity in
the tropics is a relatively recent phenomenon, we
have to consider a potentially large unrealised
“extinction debt” (sensu Tilman et al. 1994)
as an important conservation issue in the near
Some features of woodpecker distribution
patterns and biology make them especially prone
to rapid declines due to increase of human popu-
lation. First, woodpecker species occurring in
low latitudes tend to have relatively small geo-
graphic ranges (Blackburn et al. 1998) and there-
fore several range restricted species may be more
susceptible to regional forest loss. Second, many
woodpecker species are specialised foragers that
do not attain high population densities but have
relatively large home-ranges, and therefore a
viable forest population will need relative large
areas with a network of functional habitats. The
situation of the largest Camphepilus species is a
good illustration of this problem. Third, due to
their incompatibility with many forestry prac-
tices concerning the lack of big and old trees, of
dead wood, and the reduction of compositional
and structural diversity, woodpeckers may be
unable to thrive in managed forests and forest
The literature survey on woodpeckers pro-
vided striking results concerning the dispropor-
tionate number of studies performed on species
in temperate versus tropical zones. Fifteen North
American and European species of woodpeck-
ers (7% of Picidae) accounted for 70% of all
single-species articles published in the years
1985–2004. I found a total of 33 articles (less
than 3% of the total) concerning woodpeckers in
Latin America where over half of all woodpecker
species occur. Even if we take into account inac-
cessibility of some local, regional, and national
studies in the database used, the geographic
distribution of woodpecker studies seems to be
far from representative. The lack of knowledge
on diets of 37 species in the most recent and in-
depth global accounts on woodpecker life-histo-
ries provided by Winkler and Christie (2002) is
a good illustration of this problem. What kinds
of studies on woodpeckers are needed to be per-
formed and reported to the international commu-
nity? Most importantly, more reports on wood-
pecker assemblages from the areas identiﬁed as
continental or regional hotspots are required.
These should cover the conservation status and
habitat requirements of particular species, their
sensitivity to human impact, and their ecological
role in the ecosystems. Good examples of such
studies are those provided by Styring and Ickes
(2001), Lammertink (2004) and Schlatter and
Winkler and Christie (2002) identiﬁed gaps
in our knowledge on life-history traits and the
conservation status of particular species. The
keystone role of woodpeckers as excavators in
communities with secondary cavity users and
with species that feed on sap or invertebrates
exposed by woodpeckers should be assessed.
The knowledge on habitat requirements of such
key-stone species are necessary for conservation
planning in both primeval and managed forests.
It is possible that several woodpecker species in
the low latitudes will be useful focal/umbrella
species. In terms of woodpecker conservation,
it seems that emphasis should be put on larger
species. The large species tend to be more often
threatened (Fig. 5) due to their large area require-
ments, their specialisation on foraging substrate,
and their need for trees with large dimensions for
nesting and roosting.
The woodpeckers are an important part of
forest ecosystems on ﬁve continents. This group
includes highly specialised species that are
94 Mikusiński • ANN. ZOOL. FENNICI Vol. 43
threatened by the recent and future deforestation
of tropical and subtropical areas. At the same
time our knowledge on the majority of species
is quite limited. I urge all woodpecker research
ers to design and perform studies that can ﬁll
the gaps in our knowledge. Such studies will
not only illuminate our understanding of wood
pecker biology and ecology, but will also con
tribute to the maintenance of forest biodiversity
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