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Ornitologia Neotropical

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Cerulean Warblers (Setophaga cerulea), one of the fastest declining avian species in North America, are associated with heterogeneous canopies in mature hardwood forests. However, the age of most second and third-growth forests in eastern North American is not sufficient for natural tree mortality to maintain structurally diverse canopies. Previous research suggests that forest management through timber harvest also may create conditions suitable as Cerulean Warbler breeding habitat. We conducted a multistate study that examined Cerulean Warbler response to varying degrees of canopy disturbance created by operational timber harvest. Specifically, 3 harvest treatments and an un-harvested reference plot were replicated on 7 study areas in 4 Appalachian states in 2005-2010. We compared pre-harvest and four years post-harvest demographic response of Cerulean Warblers. Over all study areas, Cerulean Warbler territory density remained stable in un-harvested reference plots and increased significantly the first year post-harvest on intermediate harvest plots. By year 3 post-harvest, territory density remained significantly greater for intermediate harvest than reference plots, and marginally greater for light and heavy harvests than reference plots. However, un-harvested reference plots had greater nest survival than most harvest treatments. The one exception was nest survival between reference plots and the intermediate harvest on the northern study areas did not differ. Our results indicate that intermediate harvests likely benefit Cerulean Warblers in some portions of the species’ breeding range. However, additional research is needed to better examine fitness consequences of timber harvests and to estimate population-level implications. In particular, does the greater number of nesting individuals, particularly in intermediate harvests, compensate for lower nesting success? Until researchers provide such insight, we recommend management decisions be based on local conditions, particularly in forests where Cerulean Warbler populations are high.


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