Oaks, acorns, and the geographical ecology of acorn woodpeckers


Koenig Walter D. Hastings Reservation, University of California, Berkeley, 38601 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, California 93924, U.S.A. e-mail: wicker@uclink.berkeley.edu


We investigated the geographical ecology of acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) using 30 years of Audubon Christmas Bird Counts and data on the diversity and abundance of oaks. Spatial autocorrelation in acorn woodpecker population densities is not significantly greater than zero both in either the southwestern United States, where populations are often locally isolated, or along the Pacific Coast, where they are more evenly distributed. In both regions, the effective distributional limit of acorn woodpeckers is set not by the limits of oaks but by sites where oak diversity drops to a single species. This result is consistent with acorn production patterns in central coastal California demonstrating that variability in overall acorn production and the probability of acorn crop failure decline with increasing oak species number but drop most markedly when two, compared to one, species of oaks are present together. Along the Pacific Coast, acorn woodpecker densities increase and population variability decreases with increasing abundance and diversity of oaks; however, analyses indicate that overall population size in this region is primarily determined by resource abundance while population stability is determined by resource diversity. Comparable patterns are not obvious in the Southwest, where acorn woodpecker densities are much lower than along the Pacific Coast. This may be due to a combination of greater competition for resources and oak communities that differ both qualitatively and quantitatively in their productivity compared to those along the Pacific Coast.