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Chainsawing for conservation: Ecologically informed tree removal for habitat management

Authors

  • David A. Pike,

  • Jonathan K. Webb,

  • Richard Shine


David Pike carried out this work while undertaking postgraduate studies at The University of Sydney (School of Biological Sciences A08, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; Tel: (07) 4740 4911; Email: david.pike22@gmail.com; (Present address: School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4812, Australia)). Jonathan Webb is a Research Fellow with The University of Sydney (School of Biological Sciences A08, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; Tel: (02) 9351 5571; Email: jonathan.webb@sydney.edu.au). Richard Shine is a Professor in Evolutionary Biology with The University of Sydney (School of Biological Sciences A08, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; Tel: (02) 9351 3772; Email: rick.shine@sydney.edu.au). This project is part of an Australian Council Linkage Grant aimed at identifying and reversing the habitat shifts that have endangered the Broad-headed Snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides.

Abstract

Summary  In many ecosystems, increases in vegetation density and the resulting closure of forest canopies are threatening the viability of species that depend upon open, sunlight-exposed habitats. Consequently, we need to develop management strategies that recreate open habitats while minimizing the impacts on non-target areas. Selective logging creates canopy gaps, but may result in undesirable effects in other respects. Thus, chainsaws have not been a popular tool for conservation. We conducted a landscape-scale experiment to test whether selective tree removal can restore patch-level habitat quality for Australia’s most endangered snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) and its main prey (the lizard Oedura lesueurii). We selectively removed canopy trees surrounding 25 overgrown rock outcrops and compared the resultant habitat structure and abiotic conditions to 30 overgrown, shady outcrops and 20 open, sunny outcrops. Removing vegetation decreased canopy cover by 19% in experimental plots and increased incident radiation and thermal regimes. These changes increased the availability of suitable shelter sites for our target species by 131%. At the landscape scale, our manipulations had a trivial effect on forest habitat; by increasing the area of sun-exposed outcrops, we decreased forest cover by <0.1%. Our results show that targeted canopy removal can increase the availability of sun-exposed habitat patches for endangered species in biologically meaningful ways. Thus, selective tree felling may be an effective conservation tool for open-habitat specialists threatened by vegetation overgrowth.

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