Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
Forest Resource Management
Forest structure and composition in eastern U.S. forests are changing because of forest regeneration after farmland abandonment, less frequent occurrence of severe disturbances, and climate change. Some of these changes may disproportionally affect birds that rely on gap dynamics or other forest canopy disturbances to create understory habitat. The Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis) is one such understory specialist that has undergone consistent declines. We assessed environmental and interspecific factors associated with Canada Warbler space use in its southern breeding distribution to understand potential causes of population declines and inform conservation efforts. We evaluated Canada Warbler occupancy from 840 point count surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018 at 470 unique locations (79% of locations surveyed in both years) throughout Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, USA. We modeled Canada Warbler occupancy probability as a function of environmental variables and included Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) and Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) as interacting species because all three species exhibit similar habitat preferences. Canada Warblers were most likely to occur in areas with rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) density > 0.27 stems/m² and within 3 m of riparian areas (streams and wetlands). They were also more likely to occur in mid-elevation (highest occupancy at 930 m) northern hardwood forests when Black-throated Blue Warblers were also present. Black-throated Blue Warblers were most likely to occupy mid-elevation sites with high shrub density, whereas Hermit Thrushes were more likely to occupy high-elevation, old-age forests. Potential management actions could focus on conserving riparian areas in northern hardwood forests, especially those with dense rhododendron thickets. Such potential actions could also be beneficial across the entire elevation range we explored within the region (500–1300 m). Canada Warblers may be benefiting from the recent spread of rhododendron habitats and northern hardwood forest types within West Virginia.
Digital Commons Citation
Dimming, Gordon W.; Rota, Christopher; Wood, Petra; and Lituma, Christopher M., "Understory structure and heterospecifics influence the occupancy of a ground-nesting species of conservation concern, the Canada Warbler" (2022). Faculty & Staff Scholarship. 3102.
Dimmig, G., C. Rota, P. Wood, and C. Lituma. 2022. Understory structure and heterospecifics influence the occupancy of a ground-nesting species of conservation concern, the Canada Warbler. Avian Conservation and Ecology 17(1):20. https://doi.org/10.5751/ACE-02079-170120