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Succession of bird communities in young temperate rainforests following thinning


  • Steven M. Matsuoka,

    Corresponding author
    1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Boreal Avian Modelling Project, 751 General Services Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2H1.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503, USA.
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  • James A. Johnson,

    1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503, USA
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  • Dominick A. Dellasala

    1. Geos Institute, 84 4th Street, Ashland, OR, 97520, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Gary Roloff.


We repeated bird and vegetation surveys in 1991–1992 and 2005–2006 among young managed stands and old-growth forests in southeast Alaska to evaluate whether pre-commercial thinning of managed stands influenced the bird community. We compared decadal changes in bird densities and forest vegetation among 3 stand types: managed stands originating from clearcuts 35 years ago that were left untreated (unthinned), managed stands thinned at uniform spacing (thinned), and old growth with no prior timber harvest. We did not detect differences in decadal trends in avian densities between thinned and unthinned stands for 15 of 16 common bird species using a repeated-measures design. Thinning did not result in greater recruitment of overstory-nesting species as predicted. This was likely because of 1) similar increases in tree heights (equation image = 9–10 m) and canopy cover (equation image = 29–43%) between unthinned and thinned stands across decades and 2) the relatively young successional stage of these stands, which had only begun to recruit medium and large size conifers (dbh ≥ 36 cm). Decadal trends in densities of most (88%) understory-nesting bird species did not differ between thinned and unthinned stands. Shrub cover decreased by 22% and 31% across decades in thinned and unthinned stands, respectively. Bird community composition in managed stands reflected the general decadal changes in forest vegetation with a shift in dominance from understory species in the early 1990s (80–85% of total bird density) to an equal abundance of understory (45–54%) and overstory species in the mid-2000s. The latter was more similar to old-growth stands, which were dominated by overstory species (67–71%). Overstory-nesting birds in old growth increased in density by 49% across decades. Densities of cavity-nesting species remained unchanged in managed stands and less than densities in old growth across decades, possibly because of a lack of large trees and snags for nest sites. Overall, thinning of clearcut stands, the primary silvicultural system in the region, had few measurable benefits to birds nearly 20 years after treatment. Monitoring over the 70–100-year harvest rotation may be necessary to fully test whether thinning accelerates succession of bird communities in clearcut stands. However, partial harvests that retain large trees and snags should also be explored as alternatives to better maintain late-succession avifauna throughout the harvest rotation in southeast Alaska. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.