, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 79-89
Date: 12 Oct 2007

Presence and abundance of the Eurasian nuthatch Sitta europaea in relation to the size, isolation and the intensity of management of chestnut woodlands in the NW Iberian Peninsula

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Throughout most of the north-west Iberian Peninsula, chestnut (Castanea sativa) woods are the principal deciduous woodland, reflecting historical and ongoing exploitation of indigenous forests. These are traditionally managed woodlands with a patchy distribution. Eurasian nuthatches (Sitta europaea) inhabit mature deciduous woods, show high site fidelity, and are almost exclusively found in chestnut woods in the study area. We studied the presence and abundance of nuthatch breeding pairs over two consecutive years, in relation to the size, degree of isolation and intensity of management of 25 chestnut woods in NW Spain. Degree of isolation was assessed in view of the presence of other woodland within a 1-km band surrounding the study wood. Wood size was the only variable that significantly predicted the presence of breeding pairs (in at least one year, R 2 = 0.69; in both years, R 2 = 0.50). The number of pairs was strongly predicted by wood size, isolation and management (R 2 = 0.70 in 2004; R 2 = 0.84 in 2005); interestingly, more isolated woods had more breeding pairs. Breeding density was likewise significantly or near-significantly (P ≤ 0.1) higher in small isolated woods, which is possibly attributable to lower juvenile dispersal in lightly forested areas and/or to lower predator density in smaller and more isolated patches. Breeding density was higher (though not significantly so) in more heavily managed woods, possibly due to the presence of larger chestnut crops and larger trees (with higher nuthatch prey abundance). Our findings highlight the complexity of the relationships between the patch properties and the three studied levels (presence, number and density of pairs), and also the importance of traditionally managed woodlands for the conservation of forest birds.