Moving riparian management guidelines towards a natural disturbance model: An example using boreal riparian and shoreline forest bird communities


Kevin J. Kardynal, Ketih A. Hobson, Steven L. Van Wilgenburg, and Julienne L. Morissette


Forest Ecology and Management 257(1): 54-65; 2009


Forest harvesting strategies that approximate natural disturbances have been proposed as a means of maintaining natural species’ diversity and richness in the boreal forests of North America. Natural disturbances impact shoreline forests and upland areas at similar rates. However, shoreline forests are generally protected from harvest through the retention of treed buffer strips. We examined bird community responses to forest management guidelines intended to approximate shoreline forest fires by comparing bird community structure in early (1–4 years) post-burned and harvested boreal riparian habitats and the adjacent shoreline forest. We sampled riparian areas with adjacent: (1) burned merchantable shoreline forest (n = 21), (2) burned non-merchantable shoreline forest (n = 29), (3) 10 m treed buffer with 25% retention in the next 30 m (n = 18), and (4) 30 m treed buffer (n = 21). Only minor differences were detected in riparian species’ abundance and bird community composition between treatments with greater differences in these parameters occurring between post-fire and post-harvest upland bird communities. Indicators of all merchantable treatments were dominated by upland species with open-habitat species and habitat generalists being typical upland indicator species of burned merchantable habitats and forest specialists typical upland indicators of harvested treatments. Riparian species indicative of burned riparian habitats were Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) and Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) and indicators of 30 m buffers were Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) and Wilson’s Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla). Multivariate Redundancy Analysis (RDA) of the overall (riparian and upland birds) community showed greater divergence than RDA with only riparian species suggesting less effect of fire and forestry on riparian birds than on upland birds. Higher natural range of variability (NRV) of overall post-fire bird communities compared to post-harvest communities emphasizes that harvesting guidelines currently do not achieve this level of variability. However, lack of a large negative effect on common riparian species in the first 4 years post-disturbance allows for the exploration of alternative shoreline forest management that better incorporates bird community composition of post-fire riparian areas and shoreline forests.