Potential Effects of Passenger Pigeon Flocks on the Structure and Composition of Presettlement Forests of Eastern North America

Authors

  • JOSHUA W. ELLSWORTH,

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      * Current address: 142 Lake Street, Arlington, MA 02474, U.S.A., email vinecontrol@aol.com
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  • BRENDA C. McCOMB

    Corresponding author
      † Current address: Watershed Ecology Branch, Western Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, OR 97333, U.S.A., email mccomb.brenda@epa.gov
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* Current address: 142 Lake Street, Arlington, MA 02474, U.S.A., email vinecontrol@aol.com

† Current address: Watershed Ecology Branch, Western Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, OR 97333, U.S.A., email mccomb.brenda@epa.gov

Abstract

Abstract: We considered the possible effects Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) flocks may have had on the disturbance regime and species composition of presettlement forests in eastern North America. We suggest that the activities of roosting and nesting Passenger Pigeons caused widespread, frequent disturbances in presettlement eastern forests through tree limb and stem breakage and nutrient deposition from pigeon excrement. We suspect that the deposition of fine fuels resulting from such disturbances may have influenced fire intensity and frequency in presettlement forests. Further, we propose that consumption of vast quantities of acorns by pigeons during the spring breeding season may partially explain the dominance of white oak (Quercus alba) throughout much of the presettlement north-central hardwoods region. Consequently, the pigeon's extinction may have facilitated the increase and expansion of northern red oak (Quercus rubra) during the twentieth century. Although it is difficult to accurately quantify how physical and chemical disturbances and mast consumption by Passenger Pigeon flocks affected forest ecology, we suspect they shaped landscape structure and species composition in eastern forests prior to the twentieth century. We believe their impact should be accounted for in estimates of the range of natural variability of conditions in eastern hardwood forests.

Abstract

Resumen: Consideramos los posibles efectos que pudieron haber tenido parvadas de Palomas Migratorias (Ectopistes migratorius) sobre el régimen de perturbación y la composición de especies de bosques en Norte América oriental antes de la colonización. Sugerimos que las actividades de perchado y anidación de las palomas causaron perturbaciones frecuentes y extensas en los bosques orientales antes de la colonización por medio de la ruptura de ramas y tallos de árboles y la deposición de nutrientes del excremento de las palomas. Sospechamos que la deposición de combustibles resultantes de tales perturbaciones pudo haber influido en la intensidad y frecuencia de incendios forestales. Más aún, proponemos que el consumo de grandes cantidades de bellotas por las palomas en la primavera puede parcialmente explicar la dominancia de roble blanco (Quercus alba) en muchos de los bosques nor-orientales. En consecuencia, la extinción de la paloma pudo haber facilitado el incremento y expansión del roble rojo (Quercus rubra) durante el siglo veinte. Aunque es difícil cuantificar con precisión como las perturbaciones físicas y químicas y el consumo masivo por parvadas de palomas migratorias afectaron a la ecología forestal, sospechamos que modelaron la estructura del paisaje y la composición de especies en los bosques orientales antes del siglo veinte. Creemos que su impacto debería ser considerado cuando se hacen estimaciones del rango de variabilidad natural de las condiciones en bosques orientales de maderas duras.

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