, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 2329-2342

Are bird density, species richness and community structure similar between native woodlands and non-native plantations in an area with a generalist bird fauna?

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Abstract

This study compared the bird assemblages of native semi-natural woodlands and non-native Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) plantations in Ireland to identify what vegetation variables most influenced birds and to identify management targets in plantations to maximise future bird conservation. Point counts were conducted in 10 Oak (Quercus spp.) and 10 Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) native woodlands and in five Mid-rotation (20–30 years old) and five Mature (30–50 years old) Sitka spruce plantations. Ordination was used to characterise woodland types according to their constituent bird species. Total bird density (calculated using Distance software) and species richness were assessed for the different woodland types. Oak and Ash woodland bird assemblages were separated from Mid-rotation and Mature plantations by the ordination. There was no difference in total bird density between any of the woodland types. Oak woodlands had significantly higher species richness than either Mid-rotation or Mature Sitka spruce plantations. Ash had higher species richness than Mature Sitka spruce plantations. Understorey vegetation was negatively associated with total bird density, which also varied with survey year. Understorey vegetation was positively associated with species richness. Reasons for the relationships between vegetation and bird assemblages are discussed. Management should seek to increase shrub and understorey vegetation in the Mid-rotation phase to improve the contribution of plantations to bird conservation.