Traditional floodplain forest restoration may decrease bird diversity

There may be a problem with lower Mississippi floodplain forests that have been replanted with common oaks. While the idea was that nature would do the rest, some types of trees may not recover on their own -- and new research suggests that this lower tree diversity may lead to lower bird diversity.

"Birds tended to prefer uncommon tree species -- one bird, the yellow-throated warbler, was a virtual specialist on bald cypress," says Aaron Gabbe, who did this work while at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This work is presented by Gabbe and two co-authors in the April issue of Conservation Biology.

Floodplain forests in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley have been reduced nearly 80% by agriculture, urbanization and flood control. The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been restoring bottomland hardwood forest in the Cache River watershed, which is in the southern tip of Illinois in the floodplain of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

To help guide bottomland forest restoration, Gabbe and his colleagues studied the tree preferences of 13 species of insect-eating birds that breed in forests in the Cache River floodplain. The researchers determined the birds' preferences for 19 tree species in seven forest fragments ranging from about 55 to 6,000 acres. Each study site had three forest types: permanently inundated swamp, seasonally wet swamp and wet floodplain forest.

Gabbe and his colleagues found that many birds preferred to forage in particular types of trees and that birds that were uncommon on the study area tended to be more selective. For instance, yellow-throated warblers strongly preferred bald cyprus, cerulean warblers preferred kingnut hickory, and yellow-billed cuckoos preferred silver maple. Moreover, the three trees preferred by most of the birds (kingnut hickory, bitternut

Contact: Aaron Gabbe
Society for Conservation Biology

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