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Woodpecker–snag interactions: an overview of current knowledge in ponderosa pine systems

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Standing dead trees (snags) with cavities are a critical ecological component of western coniferous forests. These structures provide foraging, roosting, and nesting habitat for numerous species of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Snags may be created through a variety of interrelated processes including wildfire, drought, insects and disease. However, dead trees containing excavated cavities are primarily the result of nest excavation by woodpeckers. While the specific factors leading to cavity generation in certain snags is not well understood, the manner in which a tree dies likely plays a significant role. We provide an overview of woodpecker-snag interactions in relation to the major modes of tree mortality in ponderosa pine. Of particular interest is the effect of mortality agent on the temporal patterns of snag decomposition, woodpecker foraging use, and woodpecker cavity excavation. Generally, snags created by bark beetles, and/or fire decay fastest, and experience the greatest foraging and nesting use by woodpeckers. Consideration of these interrelationships may aid in snag management.
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Woodpecker-snag interactions: an overview
of current knowledge in ponderosa pine
systems1
Kerry L. Farris2 and Steve Zack3
Abstract
Standing dead trees (snags) with cavities are a critical ecological component of western
coniferous forests. These structures provide foraging, roosting, and nesting habitat for
numerous species of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Snags may be
created through a variety of interrelated processes including wildfire, drought, insects and
disease. However, dead trees containing excavated cavities are primarily the result of nest
excavation by woodpeckers. While the specific factors leading to cavity generation in certain
snags is not well understood, the manner in which a tree dies likely plays a significant role.
We provide an overview of woodpecker-snag interactions in relation to the major modes of
tree mortality in ponderosa pine. Of particular interest is the effect of mortality agent on the
temporal patterns of snag decomposition, woodpecker foraging use, and woodpecker cavity
excavation. Generally, snags created by bark beetles, and/or fire decay fastest, and experience
the greatest foraging and nesting use by woodpeckers. Consideration of these
interrelationships may aid in snag management.
Introduction
Standing dead trees (snags) are important to the structure and function of
western coniferous forests (Bull and others 1997, Harmon and others 1986, Thomas
and others 1979). These structures provide critical habitat for numerous organisms,
contribute to nutrient cycling, and influence forest productivity (Harmon and others
1986). Dead trees containing excavated cavities are of particular importance to many
species of snag-dependant wildlife and are a primary focus of forest management
guidelines in the western coniferous forests (Bull and others 1997, Thomas and
others 1997). Snags may be created through a variety of interrelated processes
including wildfire, drought, insects and disease; however snags containing cavities
are primarily the result of nest excavation by woodpeckers. Once abandoned,
woodpecker cavities provide important foraging, roosting, and nesting sites for
numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates
(Thomas and others 1979, Bull and others 1997).
The factors that determine which snags are selected for cavity excavation by
nesting woodpeckers are complex and poorly understood. Several authors have
1 An abbreviated version of this paper was presented at the symposium on Ponderosa Pine: Issues,
Trends and Management, October 18-21, 2004, Klamath Falls, Oregon.
2 Associate Conservation Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society, 219 SW Stark Street Suite 200
Portland, OR 97204 (e-mail: kfarris@wcs.org)
3 Conservation Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society, 219 SW Stark Street Suite 200 Portland, OR
97204 (e-mail: szack@wcs.org)
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Woodpecker-snag interactions: an overview of current knowledge—Farris and Zack
suggested that the quality of snags, as determined by the size and type of decay, may
be more important than the quantity of snags on the landscape when determining the
value of habitat for cavity-nesting wildlife (Bull and others 1997, Conner and others
2001, Jackson 1977, Jackson and Jackson 2004). In ponderosa pine forests, Zack and
others (2002) found that fewer than 20 percent of pine and fir snags sampled in
northeastern California contained nest cavities. Additionally, Ganey and Vojta (2004)
reported that only 17 percent of snags contained cavities in ponderosa pine forests of
Arizona. These figures suggest current management guidelines which focus solely on
snag quantity (e.g. snags/hectare) may not adequately reflect habitat requirements of
nesting woodpeckers.
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa P.& C. Lawson) is a particularly important
snag species for cavity-nesting birds due to its relatively large volume of sapwood,
which often decays quickly and provides suitable sites for nest excavation (Bull and
others 1997). In mixed-conifer stands, ponderosa pine is often preferred over other
tree species by nesting woodpeckers (Bull and others 1997, Bate 1995, Dixon 1995,
Haggard and Gains 2001, Hutto 1995, Lehmkuhl and others 2003, Zack and others
2002). Moreover, recent research in ponderosa pine suggests that the foraging
activity of woodpeckers during the first few years of snag’s life may influence
subsequent decomposition of the sapwood by promoting decay organisms associated
with nest cavity excavation (Farris and others 2004). While the snag requirements of
nesting woodpeckers have been studied widely, relatively little is known about the
structures associated with foraging (Bull and others 1997, Conner and others 1994,
Steeger and others 1995), which may prove to be instrumental to the creation of
future nesting habitat. Foraging woodpeckers respond to snags originating from
various modes of mortality, and the manner in which a tree dies likely has a large
influence on its eventual use by woodpeckers and subsequent wildlife species.
The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of woodpecker foraging
and nesting behavior as it relates to snags originating from each of the major
mortality agents in ponderosa pine systems. We will begin with a brief outline of how
foraging and nesting woodpeckers respond to snags created by wind, lightning, and
diseases. This will be followed by a more detailed discussion of responses of
woodpeckers to fire and bark-beetles, two mortality agents that have been extensively
studied. Finally, we will discuss woodpecker use of artificially created snags, as these
structures are becoming a common management tool in some forests. Of particular
interest throughout our discussion is the effect of each mortality agent on the timing
of woodpecker use and snag attrition.
Mortality Agents
There are numerous mortality agents that act to create snags in ponderosa pine
forests. Major agents of tree mortality in forested ecosystems have been outlined by
Harmon and others (1986) and Rose and others (2001) and include: wind, fire,
insects, diseases, competitive suppression, senescence, flooding, landslides,
lightening, and volcanic events. Distinguishing between proximate and ultimate
causes of tree death can be problematic and it is likely that mortality agents rarely act
independently of one another. For example, fires can weaken trees both structurally
and physiologically leading to windthrow, insect attack, or disease inoculation. For
the purposes of this review, we will treat each mortality agent independently.
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Woodpecker-snag interactions: an overview of current knowledge—Farris and Zack
Wind
Wind events can kill trees by uprooting and snapping the bole, or breaking large
branches. This agent can act on large scales during events such as severe wind storms
or hurricanes, or on a smaller scale by killing single or small clusters of trees. In
western North America, wind events are typically severe and contribute to a larger
proportion of snag creation on the west side of major mountain ranges such as the
Cascades or Sierra Nevada, or in coastal forests where as many as 70 percent of the
stems may be killed (Greene 1984, Harmon and others 1986). In contrast, only 15-20
percent of trees are killed by wind in interior ponderosa pine forests (Avery and
others 1976). Depending on the distribution of tree sizes in the affected stand and
subsequent insect colonization after wind events, the resultant snags and downed logs
may be useful for woodpeckers as both foraging and nesting sites. Wichmann and
Ravn (2001) documented large influxes of Scolytid beetles following a windthrow
event in spruce forests. Wickman (1965) reported both foraging and nesting use of
wind damaged ponderosa pine by Black-backed Woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus
Swainson) foraging on Cerambycid beetles in northeastern California.
Lightning
Lightning can kill trees by shattering or exploding the tops or entire boles. It can
also damage trees, resulting in a narrow furrow of disturbed bark and sapwood
spiraling around the bole from the top to the butt of the tree (Scharpf 1993). This
often results in dead and decaying wood which may be colonized by insects (Bull and
others 1997), subsequently attracting foraging woodpeckers (Bull and others 1997).
Additionally, these pockets of dead wood can serve as cavity sites for nesting
woodpeckers (Bull and others 1997).
Disease
There are numerous diseases which affect ponderosa pine. Scharpf (1993)
outline 7 major categories: needle diseases; cankers; diebacks and galls; rusts;
mistletoes; root diseases; and rots. The responses of foraging and nesting
woodpeckers to trees with these diseases present, or snags created by them, is largely
unknown. From the perspective of woodpecker use perhaps the greatest influence
these diseases may have is in weakening and/or killing trees which facilitates the
invasion of bark and/or wood-boring beetles, the major prey of foraging
woodpeckers. Trees weakened or killed by disease may also provide nesting habitat
depending on internal decay patterns.
Insect Mortality
There are numerous species of bark beetles which act as mortality agents in
ponderosa pine systems. Most common are members of the genera Dendroctonus and
Ips. These insects typically attack weakened or suppressed trees, but at epidemic
levels, they can overcome even healthy trees, resulting in patches of mortality that
contribute to both vertical and horizontal diversity in forest structure. These beetles
are an important source of prey for many woodpecker species: particularly those of
the genus Picoides. Woodpeckers of this genus respond dramatically to outbreaks of
these insects and have been suggested as control agents for endemic insect
populations. For instance, Murphy and Lehnhausen (1998) noted a four fold increase
in Hairy (P. villosus Linnaeus), Three-toed (P. dorsalis Baird), and Black-backed
Woodpeckers (P. arcticus Swainson) following a bark and wood-boring beetle
outbreak in Alaska. Several authors have suggested that woodpeckers may be
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important regulators of bark beetle populations: especially at endemic levels (Kroll
and Fleet 1979, Kroll and others 1980, Koplin and Baldwin 1970, Koplin 1972).
Picoides woodpeckers forage most intensively on ponderosa pine infested by
bark-beetles during the first 1 to 3 years after invasion (Farris and others 2002). Bark
beetles of the genus Dendroctonus are the primary prey items of woodpeckers during
the first year following tree death (Farris and others 2002, Shea and others 2002).
During the second and third years following the tree’s demise, phloem and xylem
consuming insects of the families Buprestidae and Cermabycidae provide additional
prey for woodpeckers (Farris and others 2002, Shea and others 2002).
Ponderosa pine killed by bark beetles, once adequately decayed, may also serve
as nesting sites for woodpeckers. Little information exists examining the nesting
preferences of woodpeckers in ponderosa snags specifically originating from bark
beetle activity; however it is likely that many of the snags examined in several
studies were influenced by bark beetles. In general, woodpeckers nesting in
ponderosa pine select snags that are larger in diameter and of advanced decay (Bull
and others 1997, Bate 1995, Dixon 1995).
Recent evidence suggests a potential relationship between nest excavation in
beetle-killed ponderosa pine and previous foraging use by woodpeckers during the
early stages of snag decay. Zack and others (2002) determined that nest excavation
was more likely on snags with an extensive history of foraging activity by both
beetles and woodpeckers. Additionally, Farris and others (2004) documented the
influence of foraging woodpeckers on the decomposition of ponderosa pine. Snags
that were used by foraging woodpeckers experienced significantly greater sapwood
decay than unused snags. Additionally, more than half the woodpeckers sampled in
this study carried wood-decaying fungi on their beaks. These findings suggest that
woodpeckers may influence snag decomposition through their foraging behavior that
can structurally degrade the wood and passively introduce the wood decaying fungi
required for subsequent nest cavity excavation.
Snag longevity following insect attack is variable and is likely dependent on
site-specific factors such as soil characteristics, snag size, and local microclimate
(Landram and others 2002; Laudenslayer, this volume). On average, the half-life
(amount of time it takes for half of the population to fall) of ponderosa and Jeffrey
pine snags in the southern Cascades of California is 5 to 6 years for small (13-36 cm
[5.2-14.3 in] dbh) snags and 7 to 8 years for large (> 38 cm [15 in] dbh) snags
(Landram and others 2002). However, the authors don’t distinguish between fall rates
of snags of various origins (e.g. fire versus beetle kill). Mitchell and Preisler (1998)
found that the half-life of lodgepole pine killed by the mountain pine beetle in central
Oregon to be 8 years, with snags falling as early as 3 years after death.
In summary, the temporal patterns of snag use by woodpeckers following beetle
kill events are concentrated within the first 1 to 8 years. Foraging is most intense within
the first 1-3 years after tree death, while nesting activity begins around year 5. Snags
begin to fall during this same period and may be an indication that snags killed by
beetles don’t stand long enough to serve as useful nest sites in some instances (fig. 1).
Fire
Historically, fire was likely the most common mortality agent in ponderosa pine
forests, and is the most widely studied means of tree death in terms of evaluating
woodpecker response. Fire can directly kill and weaken trees through crown scorch,
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cambial girdling, and root damage (Harmon and others 1986). The effects of fire are
highly variable and typically depend on the type of burn, its intensity, topography,
and forest type. In ponderosa pine forests, fires historically burned at frequent
intervals and low intensities (Agee 1993). However, management activities common
during most of the 20th century including timber harvest, livestock grazing, and fire
suppression, have altered both the structure and function of many of today’s forest stands,
resulting in an increase in the number, size, and severity of fires (Allen and others 2002).
Typically woodpeckers respond dramatically to both large and small scale fires where
they find an abundance of insect prey and decaying snags suitable for nesting. However,
the specific patterns of woodpecker use are likely dependent upon the severity of the fire
and whether trees are killed directly or experience a prolonged weakening and death from
other associated mortality agents such as bark beetles.
Figure 1—Generalized conceptual model of temporal woodpecker use and attrition
of snags created by bark beetles in ponderosa pine. Foraging activity is most intense
during the first 3 years following death and corresponds to the insect types active
within the snag. Cavity generation and snag attrition both begin after approximately 5
years. The shading of the trees in this figure illustrates changes in foliage color from
a healthy green (far left shaded black), fading to yellow (second panel shaded as
light grey) and dead and shedding red needles (third panel shaded as black with
gaps of needle loss). Schematic patterned after Steeger and others 1995).
Foraging woodpeckers, particularly those of the genus Picoides respond
immediately to post-fire areas where they typically prey on bark and wood boring
beetles that invade dead and dying trees (Farris and Zack in press, Murphy and
Lehnhausen 1998). This foraging period is generally brief, lasting only 2-3 years
after the fire, before most of the beetle prey has been exhausted (Farris and Zack in
press, Murphy and Lehnhausen 1998). As decay progresses in subsequent years,
insects such as carpenter ants and termites become important prey for other species of
woodpecker, such as the pileated. In general, snags selected by foraging woodpeckers
within burned areas are typically large in diameter (Kreisel and Stein 1999, Murphy
and Lehnhausen 1998), and of moderate fire damage (less than 50 percent of the bole
burned) (Murphy and Lehnhausen 1998). However, some studies have demonstrated
woodpecker use of both small and large diameter snags in post-fire environments
(Hutto 1995, Horton and Mannan 1988, Haggard and Gains 2001), suggesting that
other variables, such as fire damage, tree species, bark thickness, timing, and insect
activity may be important factors.
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Nesting woodpeckers typically use post-fire environs relatively later than
foraging woodpeckers. For example, models created by Lehmkuhl and others (2003)
for ponderosa pine in the eastern Cascades of Washington predicted nest cavities to
most likely occur between 5 and 25 years post-fire. Note that these were cumulative
numbers across a chronosequence of wildfires so the exact timing of excavation and
occupancy was unknown. In contrast, the models of Saab and others (2004) predicted
nest occupancy to be highest during the first 5 years, with cavities showing up as
early as 2 years after the burn. Snags selected as nesting sites are generally larger in
diameter than the average available snag (Bull and others 1997, Lehmkuhl and others
2003, Saab and Dudley 1998, Saab and others 2004).
Snag longevity following fires is variable and likely dependent on numerous,
site-specific factors such as fire severity, soil characteristics, snag size, and local
microclimate (Landram and others 2002; Laudenslayer, this volume). Everett and
others (1999) found that 50 percent of the small (<23 cm [9.1 in] dbh) ponderosa pine
fell or broke to heights less than 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) during the first 7-12 years
following fires in the eastern Cascades of Washington. Larger ponderosa pine (>41
cm [16.1 in] dbh) were scarce in their study areas, but of the few present, 79 percent
remained standing 60 years post-fire. In Colorado, Harrington (1996) documented
ponderosa pine snags falling as early as 3 years following fire. Morrison and Raphael
(1993) found a 68 percent decline in snags 18 to 23 years following a fire event in the
eastern Sierra Nevada of California, but do not distinguish between pine and fir. In
northeastern California, Laudenslayer (2002) did not observe any snags fall during
the 7 year study period, but did document top breakage after 5 years. Farris and Zack
(in press) found 20 percent of Jeffrey pine snags fell 4 years following a fire event in
the southern Cascades of California. There is conflicting evidence regarding the
relative attrition and decay rates of ponderosa compared to other conifers such as
white-fir. Landram and others (2002), Morrison and Raphael (1993) and Raphael and
White (1984) all found that both ponderosa and Jeffrey pine fell at more rapid rates
than white-fir. In contrast, one study in the southern Cascades of California noted
greater persistence of Jeffrey pine as compared to white-fir following fire (Farris and
Zack in press). Additionally, Lowell (1996) and Farris and Zack (in press) both noted
more pronounced wood decay in white-fir compared to ponderosa and Jeffrey pine
following fire, which may lead to more rapid attrition.
Figure 2Generalized conceptual model of temporal woodpecker use and attrition of snags
created by low to moderate intensity fire in ponderosa pine where most of the trees are
weakened and eventually infested with bark and wood boring beetles. Foraging activity is most
intense during the first 3 years following fire, while cavity generation can overlap this period
and last for several years following the burn event. Fire-killed trees generally begin to fall about
5 years after death. Schematic adapted after Steeger and others 1995).
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In summary, the temporal patterns of snag use by woodpeckers following fire
events are concentrated within the first 1-5 years, but can extend to 15 years
following wildfire. Foraging is most intense within the first 1-3 years after the burn
and nesting activity overlaps the later stages of foraging and extends throughout the
life of the snag. Attrition and advanced decay typically starts around 5 years after the
burn, but can occur as early as 3 years (fig. 2). These generalizations are for low-
moderate severity fires in which bark and wood-boring beetles play an active role.
Artificial Creation
Methods of artificial snag creation are becoming a tool to meet snag
management guidelines in areas lacking suitable snag densities. Creation methods
vary and include the use of insect pheromones (Shea and others 2002), mechanical
girdling (Shea and others 2002, Hallett and others 2001), girdling through basal
burning (Parks and others 1999), mechanical topping (Hallet and others 2001), and
topping using explosives (Bull and others 1981). Typically, the motivation for
creating snags is to provide nesting habitat, so few studies have evaluated the
quantitative use of these artificially created structures as foraging substrates. In
ponderosa pine 3 creation methods have been well documented: girdling, topping,
and pheromone baiting.
In eastern Washington, foraging woodpeckers showed no preference between
topped and girdled snags (Hallet and others 2001). Parks and others (1999)
documented equal amounts of woodpecker foraging on ponderosa killed by basal
burning and mechanical girdling in New Mexico. Shea and others (2002)
documented a greater use of pheromone-baited trees as compared to girdled trees for
two types of woodpecker foraging strategies aimed at two distinct types of insects. In
their study, all trees that were baited with western pine beetle pheromone, exhibited
woodpecker “flaking” (superficial removal of successively thin layers of bark to
procure pupae and emerging adult bark beetles) within a few months after treatment,
while none of the girdled trees showed evidence of flaking; suggesting that bark
beetles were not present or were too rare to exploit in the girdled snags. In contrast,
evidence of woodpecker foraging “excavations” (distinct holes created in the bark
that often penetrate through to the tree’s sapwood created in pursuit of wood-boring
beetles) were recorded on snags in both treatment types, but in much greater densities
on the pheromone baited snags as compared to the girdled snags; suggesting that
these structures provided a more productive foraging medium for woodpeckers.
Nesting woodpeckers tended to prefer topped trees versus girdled trees in
Washington (Hallett and others 2001), while Parks and others (1999) documented
greater nest use in mechanically girdled snags versus trees killed using basal burning
methods, or a combination of girdling and burning. In the Southern Cascades, 44
percent of pheromone baited snags contained woodpecker nest cavities 6 years after
treatment, while none of the girdled trees were used by nesting woodpeckers (Shea
and others 2002). However, 2 years later, 14 percent of the girdled snags contained
cavities and the use of baited snags increased to 50 percent (Shea unpublished data).
Decay and attrition of snags created by the three methods are variable and once
again, likely dependant on local site conditions. Most authors cited “decay” as the
breaking of branches off the bole, the loss of bark, or advancement between the
standardized decay stages outlined by Thomas and others (1979) or Cline and others
(1980). Hallet and others (2001) found that topped trees tended to decay slower than
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girdled trees, but have little data specific to ponderosa pine and do not speculate on
fall rates. In New Mexico, 97 percent of the girdled trees remained standing while
only 68 percent of the basally burned trees remained standing 4 years after treatment.
After 6 years, standing girdled trees declined to 72 percent, while basally-burned
trees declined to only 36 percent. In northeastern California, 16 percent of the
pheromone baited trees had fallen, while only 12 percent of the girdled trees fell or
broke to heights less than 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) 6 years after treatment (Shea and
others 2002).
Summary and Implications
Several factors determine how and when snags are utilized by foraging and
nesting woodpeckers. These include the mode of mortality, time since tree death, and
snag size. In terms of foraging, woodpecker utilization of snags appears to be most
concentrated within the first three years of tree death, especially on snags originating
from bark-beetles and/or a combination of bark beetles and low/moderate severity
fires. Snags created artificially through girdling or topping are used less intensively
for foraging. Moreover, peak foraging activity in artificially snags typically occurs
after the first two or three years of snag creation. This disparity is likely due to
differences in the sequence of insect infestation. Greater insect diversity and
abundance have been reported in naturally created snags compared to snags created
artificially by girdling (Shea and others 2002).
In comparison to foraging woodpeckers, snag utilization by nesting
woodpeckers appears to be concentrated in older snags with some level of decay.
Importantly, intensive foraging by woodpeckers in young snags may facilitate future
cavity excavation by promoting wood decomposition through a combination of
structural damage to the wood and the transfer of tree decaying fungi. The manner in
which a snag is created seems to have an effect on the timing of cavity excavation in
ponderosa pine. Snags decay to cavity-bearing structures fastest in burned areas, as
soon as 2 to 3 years after the fire in some cases. Bark beetle killed trees provide
nesting habitat as early as 5 years after death, while girdled trees can take as long as 6
to 8 years. Snag size is another predictor of cavity generation with larger snags more
likely to eventually contain nest cavities. However, it is important to note, that a very
small fraction of available snags actually contain cavities excavated by woodpeckers;
suggesting the need for more consideration of mortality agent.
Snag attrition rates are highly variable and tend to depend not only on the mode
of mortality, but also on local site conditions. In general however, the fastest
recorded attrition was in instances of fire-killed trees, which fell as early as 4 years
after the fire. These patterns may be directly related to the severity of fire damage on
individual trees and the history of post-fire beetle use. Generally, snags that
experience greater use by both bark and wood-beetles attract foraging woodpeckers,
which serve to further degrade the wood integrity and can lead to faster decay rates
than trees that don’t experience these same use patterns. However, there are instances
where trees that experience extremely severe fire damage stand for extended periods
of time and are not used by either beetles or woodpeckers. Trees killed by insects,
independent of fire, stand slightly longer than those affected by both fire and insects
simultaneously. Insect-killed snags begin to fall between 5 to 6 years after death. This
can be problematic, as these snags may fall before they can provide nesting habitat.
Snags created artificially by topping or girdling tend to stand longer than either fire
or insect killed trees. This may be due to the relatively less use of these trees by
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beetles and woodpeckers, which can contribute to expedited decay of these structures
(Farris and others 2004).
These temporal trends in woodpecker use and snag decomposition patters are
paradoxical. Trees killed by bark beetles alone, or in association with fire serve as
high quality foraging habitat and seem most likely to contain future nest cavities.
However, these same structures are likely to fall more rapidly than snags originating
from sources of mortality that don’t attract beetles and foraging woodpeckers in
similar intensities (e.g. artificial creation methods such as mechanical girdling or
topping).
Classically, snag management has been driven by the objective to provide
nesting habitat for snag-dependant species such as woodpeckers. Many of the
strategies have centered on the notion that snags simply needed to be large enough
and in adequate densities in order to be useful for most wildlife species. As illustrated
through this review, recent information suggests that managing quantity while
ignoring quality may not be sufficient. In particular the following 5 principles should
be considered:
1. Snag recruitment and attrition is a dynamic process that is dependent on
characteristics of individual sites.
2. Snags are an ephemeral resource on the landscape (e.g. half of all
ponderosa snags may fall within 8 years of death).
3. Not all snags are useful to wildlife (a small fraction of standing snags
are actually used by cavity-nesting wildlife).
4. The manner in which a tree dies affects its subsequent use by beetles
and woodpeckers.
5. Foraging use by both beetles and woodpeckers appears to play a
significant role in the decay dynamics, cavity excavation patterns, and
standing life span of a snag. These interactions likely influence future
use by subsequent snag-dependent wildlife species.
Consideration of these important sources of variability in snag ecology and
woodpecker use may help improve snag management in ponderosa pine forests.
Acknowledgements
This review was funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the USDA
Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. William Laudenslayer, Patrick
Shea, Doug Maguire, and Martin Ritchie provided helpful comments on earlier
versions of this manuscript.
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... The motivation for studying artificially created snags usually relates to nesting (Brandeis et al. 2002, Kilgo & Vukovich 2014, Barry et al. 2018. Few studies examine this subject in the context of foraging needs (Aulén 1991, Farris & Zack 2005, Arnett et al. 2010, Aszalós et al. 2020. ...
... In the framework of this baseline survey, we studied foraging on living trees, a subject which is generally uncommon in woodpecker-related research. Nonetheless, some previous studies have indicated that Great Spotted Woodpeckers are often associated with living trees (Török 1990, Farris & Zack 2005, Pasinelli 2007, Ónodi & Csörgő 2014, Ónodi & Winkler 2016, Kosiński et al. 2017. ...
... Many papers discuss the relationship between snags and woodpeckers and the importance of deadwood to them (Angelstam et al. 2003, Farris & Zack 2005, Löhmus et al. 2010, Kosinski et al. 2017. Deadwood is usually scarce in managed forests, so our results might highlight some of the traits on trees that woodpeckers prefer if no deadwood material is available. ...
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We documented the foraging activities of woodpeckers on selected trees in an established conservation-oriented management study in five oak-dominated forests in Hungary. We examined the tree species preference of woodpeckers as a group and the impact of specific tree characteristics on the habitat use of woodpeckers. We estimated the percentage of visible foraging signs on the trunks and upper limbs of selected trees through the winter and early spring of 2019-2020. Based on the Jacobs' index, woodpeckers preferred oak species for foraging and most foraging signs were on limbs rather than trunks. Foraging signs on trunks were more frequent on those of larger diameters and greater heights. It was also found that the lower the tree, the greater the effect of its diameter on the occurrence of signs.
... The second wave occurs with epigeic species that utilize snags after they have fallen. Snag size and stem density are known to influence colonization by subcortical insects as well as subsequent excavation by predatory birds (Saint-Germain et al., 2004, Farris andZack, 2005). Colonization by insects and foraging by birds are also thought to accelerate snag decay (Harmon et al., 1986, Farris et al., 2004. ...
... Primary cavity-nesting bird species often construct cavities that are subsequently exploited by secondary cavity-nesting species (e.g., wood duck, Aix sponsa; American kestrel, Falco sparverius). However, snags may become less suitable for foraging by birds as snags deteriorate, as colonization by subcortical insects peaks within one to three years following tree death in pine ecosystems (Farris et al., 2002, Farris andZack, 2005). As decay progresses, more decayed snags are thought to become more suitable for cavity excavation (Farris and Zack, 2005). ...
... However, snags may become less suitable for foraging by birds as snags deteriorate, as colonization by subcortical insects peaks within one to three years following tree death in pine ecosystems (Farris et al., 2002, Farris andZack, 2005). As decay progresses, more decayed snags are thought to become more suitable for cavity excavation (Farris and Zack, 2005). Previous research suggests that proximate cause of tree death affects the probability of cavity excavation, as does wood softness, snag size, and stem density (Petit et al., 1985, Parks et al., 1999, Lehmkuhl et al., 2003, Bagne et al., 2008. ...
Article
Standing dead trees, or snags, represent post-disturbance biological legacies in forest ecosystems, and intentional creation of new snags is increasingly common during forest treatments. The abundance, volume, size, and distribution of snags can affect wildlife communities and stand-level biological diversity. Characteristics such as the wood properties of different tree species, environmental conditions, and cause of tree death (e.g., insects, disease, senescence, wind, fire) can influence decomposition and subsequent use of snags by wildlife. The objectives of this study were to characterize decay patterns in jack pine (Pinus banksiana) snags that had been killed by prescribed fire, topping, and girdling and determine the effects of these treatments on subsequent snag use by subcortical insects and primary cavity-nesting birds. The prescribed fire, topping, and girdling treatments were implemented in 2003, 2004, and 2007, respectively; bird excavations were quantified in 2014 and insect activity was measured in 2016. One-way analysis of variance tests were used to examine any differences among treatments in snag characteristics, decay characteristics, past insect activity, and past use by birds. An information theoretic approach to model selection was then used to rank potential predictors of bird foraging activity and cavities. The topping treatment had unique decay characteristics relative to the other two treatments; topped snags had the highest levels of past insect colonization, were softer, and had higher proportions of loose bark remaining on the boles. Trees killed by prescribed fire had the greatest number of foraging excavations and cavities. Girdled snags had the lowest evidence of past insect colonization and showed different levels of decay and insect use at different vertical positions on the snag bole. Comparison of candidate models showed that a model containing treatment type alone was the highest ranked when predicting foraging by birds, while snag diameter was the highest ranked when predicting the presence of cavities. A model containing treatment and snag density was also a highly ranked for predicting cavity presence. Our findings suggest that different jack pine snag treatments result in unique decay trajectories that may influence snag use by an array of wildlife taxa. Our characterization of three snag creation treatments can also inform options for generating snags, depending on the desired outcome, when management for biological legacies and wildlife habitat is of interest within mixed-pine forests of the Great Lakes region.
... In the short term, the observed increase in snag numbers should benefit some species of native wildlife. The large number of dead and dying trees should provide abundant foraging substrates for species such as woodpeckers that forage on dead or dying trees [39][40][41][42][43][44][45]. This should be particularly true where snags occur in high densities [41,45,46]; these high densities may be necessary to support populations of some woodpeckers that forage on insects in dead and dying trees [7,46]. ...
... Further, fall rates of snags increased during the second half of this study as mortality increased. Consequently, many of these newly created snags may not remain standing long enough to provide nest sites for cavity-nesting birds [42] or roost sites for bats. In the longer term, the observed trends in tree mortality may be detrimental to cavity-nesting birds and bats [44,50], as current levels of mortality appear to be great enough to reduce the future supply of mature trees significantly, especially in mixed-conifer forest [15]. ...
... This complexity is exacerbated by the effects of climate change and potential changes in disturbance regimes and land management practices. Predicted changes in climate and land management practices may affect both snag recruitment and snag longevity, either directly or through complex interactions with disturbance regimes and mortality agents [42,[53][54][55]. As a result, models based on snag recruitment and fall rates from past periods are unlikely to describe current and future dynamics of snag populations adequately. ...
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Snags provide important biological legacies, resources for numerous species of native wildlife, and contribute to decay dynamics and ecological processes in forested ecosystems. We monitored trends in snag populations from 1997 to 2007 in drought-stressed mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws) forests, northern Arizona. Median snag density increased by 75 and 90% in mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine forests, respectively, over this time period. Increased snag density was driven primarily by a large pulse in drought-mediated tree mortality from 2002 to 2007, following a smaller pulse from 1997 to 2002. Decay-class composition and size-class composition of snag populations changed in both forest types, and species composition changed in mixed-conifer forest. Increases in snag abundance may benefit some species of native wildlife in the short-term by providing increased foraging and nesting resources, but these increases may be unsustainable in the long term. Observed changes in snag recruitment and fall rates during the study illustrate the difficulty involved in modeling dynamics of those populations in an era of climate change and changing land management practices.
... Edworthy et al. (2011) and Bonnot et al. (2009) found that populations of cavity-nesting birds (e.g., hairy woodpecker, northern flicker) tracked bark beetle outbreaks, increasing with the intensity of beetle kill. Foraging by cavity nesters was most intense in the early stages of decay (within 3 years of beetle kill), when snags contained the densest populations of beetles and wood borers (Farris et al. 2002, Farris and Zack 2005; we also documented high rates of foraging (Table 4). Trees killed by bark beetles thus provide biologically rich conditions for cavity-nesting species . ...
... We found excavated cavities in only 7% of snags, which is consistent with Farris and Zack (2005), who found that only a fraction of standing snags were used by cavity nesters. They noted that nesting activity started about 5 years after beetle kill in ponderosa pine in California, but we found nests and newly excavated cavities in snags as early as 3 years after tree death. ...
... Beetle-killed trees have the potential to augment snag densities and are used by cavity nesters . However, given the rapid fall rate, these snags are an ephemeral resource for cavity nesters , Farris and Zack 2005, Edworthy et al. 2011. Unlike ponderosa pine snags created by single or small clump tree deaths that can remain standing Ͼ120 years in northern Arizona ), recent bark beetle outbreaks have created pon-derosa pine snags with high fall rates within a short time period (4 -9 years), similar to snags created by crown fires (Chambers and Mast 2005). ...
Article
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In the United States, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests provide habitat for more cavity-nesting wildlife than any other forest type. In 2002‐2005, stresses from drought, changes in the fire regime, and increases in forest density contributed to the largest bark beetle (Ips or Dendroctonus spp.) epidemic ever recorded in Arizona. We identified characteristics that predict snag longevity and use by cavity nesters of bark beetle-killed ponderosa pine. We mapped snags and monitored use by wildlife in sites with bark beetle outbreaks in northern Arizona. We measured snag characteristics 3−9 years after outbreaks and used multimodel inference to predict whether a snag was standing or fallen or contained excavated cavities or not. We used spatial statistical tests to determine snag patterns. Although >99% of beetle-killed snags were standing 3 years after outbreaks
... Small vertebrates, such as birds and bats, depend on insects as a protein source for their young during spring, while a variety of species consume fruits and seeds following pollination. Trees killed by insects may be more attractive to birds than artificially created snags (Farris and Zack 2005). ...
... Woodpeckers select large-diameter trees that are greater than necessary for cavities, indicating tree age at which rot develops (Bunnell 2013). Additionally, sapwood decay, probably increased by beetle and woodpecker activity, may be necessary for snag selection by woodpeckers; ponderosa pine often is a preferred tree species for excavation, in part due to containing a relatively large volume of sapwood (Farris and Zack 2005). Reptiles use exposed environmental conditions of open dry pine forests, with cover from rocks and scree or logs, and some species particularly prefer postfire conditions (Germaine and Germaine 2003;Pilliod et al. 2006;Wisdom et al. 2000). ...
... comm.). The complex interactions of woodpeckers, bark beetles and wood borers, snags, and fungi that decay snags, and how those interactions may lead to potential cavity excavation were closely investigated (Farris et al. 2002, Farris et al. 2004, Farris and Zack 2005. These efforts were conducted at BMEF and in separate experimental treatments in the Ochoco National Forest of Oregon. ...
... Thus, woodpeckers could facilitate the spread of fungi that decay sapwood, increasing the likelihood that snags they forage on decay rapidly and permit cavity excavation. Further, as bark beetles are drawn to fire-killed trees, that, in turn, quickly attract woodpeckers, it seems likely that the reintroduction of fire to ponderosa pine forests reinstalls an important set of interactions between woodpeckers, beetles, and fungi that result in snags with cavities, a crucial resource for many species of wildlife (Farris and Zack 2005). ...
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National Park lands are often believed to contribute towards the habitat-based objectives outlined in the Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plans by protecting large tracks of contiguous land holdings where natural processes predominate. However, a paucity of accurate data to evaluate such assumptions has left the National Park Service’s contributions to regional conservation initiatives open to question. The Klamath Network, a confederation of six National Park Service units in southern Oregon and northern California, launched its Inventory and Monitoring Program in 2000. Since then, the Network has taken four sequential steps to explore patterns of avian biodiversity and to lay the groundwork for long-term landbird monitoring. The steps include: 1) conducting inventories to determine distribution and abundance of relatively common species in the parks; 2) updating the bird species list for each park; 3) designating landbirds as vital signs for the Network; and 4) developing landbird monitoring protocols to guide long-term monitoring. In 2002, the Klamath Network approached the Klamath Bird Observatory with a request to partner for inventory and monitoring of landbirds. Since then, Klamath Bird Observatory has provided assistance with each of the network steps for the development of its inventory and monitoring program. Through this collaboration, the Klamath Network has been able to meet park management objectives and become an active contributor to Partners in Flight conservation objectives at regional and continental scales.
... Fire-killed trees are important habitat for wildlife (Farris and Zack 2005) and the resulting gaps in the canopy result in accelerated growth of remaining trees and provide sites for tree regeneration and the establishment of a diverse understory of grasses, forbs, and shrubs (Cooper 1960, Brockway and Lewis 1997, Keeley and Stephenson 2000, Agee and Lolley 2006, Moghaddas et al. 2008). The ecological health and persistence of many forest types has historically been dependent on natural fires to thin stands and reduce the buildup of surface fuels in order to make forests less susceptible to stand-replacing crown fires (Agee et al. 1977, Parsons and DeBenedetti 1979, Knapp et al. 2005). ...
... Fire-induced tree mortality is recognized as an important ecosystem process that varies among tree species (Ryan and Reinhardt 1988) and is influenced by patterns of fire severity (Glitzenstein et al. 1995, Kobziar et al. 2006) and fuel consumption (Stephens and Finney 2002) as well as postfire bark beetle dynamics (McHugh and Kolb 2003, Parker et al. 2006, Fettig et al. 2007). Fire-killed trees are important habitat for wildlife (Farris and Zack 2005) and the resulting gaps in the canopy result in accelerated growth of remaining trees and provide sites for tree regeneration and the establishment of a diverse understory of grasses, forbs, and shrubs (Cooper 1960, Brockway and Lewis 1997, Keeley and Stephenson 2000, Agee and Lolley 2006, Moghaddas et al. 2008). The ecological health and persistence of many forest types has historically been dependent on natural fires to thin stands and reduce the buildup of surface fuels in order to make forests less susceptible to stand-replacing crown fires (Agee et al. 1977, Parsons and DeBenedetti 1979). ...
Article
Changes in vegetation and fuels were evaluated from measurements taken before and after fuel reduction treatments (prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, and the combination of the two) at 12 Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) sites located in forests with a surface fire regime across the conterminous United States. To test the relative effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments and their effect on ecological parameters we used an information-theoretic approach on a suite of 12 variables representing the overstory (basal area and live tree, sapling, and snag density), the understory (seedling density, shrub cover, and native and alien herbaceous species richness), and the most relevant fuel parameters for wildfire damage (height to live crown, total fuel bed mass, forest floor mass, and woody fuel mass). In the short term (one year after treatment), mechanical treatments were more effective at reducing overstory tree density and basal area and at increasing quadratic mean tree diameter. Prescribed fire treatments were more effective at creating snags, killing seedlings, elevating height to live crown, and reducing surface woody fuels. Overall, the response to fuel reduction treatments of the ecological variables presented in this paper was generally maximized by the combined mechanical plus burning treatment. If the management goal is to quickly produce stands with fewer and larger diameter trees, less surface fuel mass, and greater herbaceous species richness, the combined treatment gave the most desirable results. However, because mechanical plus burning treatments also favored alien species invasion at some sites, monitoring and control need to be part of the prescription when using this treatment.
... Most fire-killed trees die within 2 years of fire, although delayed mortality occurs at least 10 years post-fire (Angers et al., 2011). Snags with cavities are structurally compromised and may be more susceptible to decay (Farris & Zack, 2005), leading to increased fall rates. We observed a loss of 51% of snags with excavated cavities in the second year following the fire, supporting the notion that cavities could be limited even in areas with high-snag densities. ...
Article
Several studies have addressed the importance of woodpeckers as ecological engineers in forests due to their excavation of cavities. Although research in green, unburned forests has identified the influence of different excavators on secondary use by cavity-dependent species, little is known about the relative importance of cavities created by woodpeckers in recently burned forests. By excavating cavities, woodpeckers create habitat for secondary cavity users that can facilitate post-fire regeneration through seed dispersal, seed germination and regulation of insect populations that affect vegetative growth. In this study, we monitored 77 cavities created by three species of Picoides woodpeckers for use by secondary cavity species in a fire that burned in the Sierra Nevada, California. At each cavity we measured nest tree and site-specific parameters to determine if these characteristics could explain differential use by secondary cavity users. We found substantial overlap in cavity characteristics between woodpecker species, with the white-headed woodpecker differing most notably in their placement of cavities in larger diameter, shorter and more decayed trees in less dense stands than either hairy or black-backed woodpeckers. These differences in cavity placement may have resulted in the high diversity and large number of detections of secondary cavity species in white-headed woodpecker cavities. Black-backed and hairy woodpeckers were similar in the number of detections of secondary cavity use, although black-backed woodpecker cavities were used by more species than hairy woodpecker cavities. Secondary cavity use was high (86%) suggesting these woodpeckers, and the white-headed woodpecker in particular, can have an accelerating affect effect on ecological succession by providing valuable habitat features for seed dispersing birds and mammals, insectivorous birds, and small predators, thereby impacting ecological processes and functions.
... This result would not necessarily hold true for other raptors. Woodpeckers declined in overstory removals, but did not appear to respond to wildfires; we would have expected a positive response due to their well-documented relationship with fire and increased insect foraging opportunities on snags and residual trees (Farris and Zack, 2005;Covert-Bratland et al., 2006). Ground/shrub-foraging birds were the only guild that responded positively to overstory removal, suggesting that this treatment was effective in maintaining or enhancing understory and shrub cover (Ffolliott and Gottfried, 1989;Yorks et al., 2000). ...
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