Original Paper

Biological Invasions

, Volume 15, Issue 9, pp 2095-2103

First online:

Effects of the emerald ash borer invasion on four species of birds

  • Walter D. KoenigAffiliated withCornell Lab of OrnithologyDepartment of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Andrew M. LiebholdAffiliated withUSDA Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • , David N. BonterAffiliated withCornell Lab of Ornithology
  • , Wesley M. HochachkaAffiliated withCornell Lab of Ornithology
  • , Janis L. DickinsonAffiliated withCornell Lab of OrnithologyDepartment of Natural Resources, Cornell University

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The emerald ash borer (EAB) Agrilus planipennis, first detected in 2002 in the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan, USA, is one of the most recent in a long list of introduced insect pests that have caused serious damage to North American forest trees, in this case ash trees in the genus Fraxinus. We used data from Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program focused on winter bird populations, to quantify the effects of EAB invasion on four species of resident, insectivorous birds known or likely to be EAB predators: three woodpecker species and the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). We compared relative numbers of birds within 50 km of the epicenter of the region where EAB was first detected, an area known to have suffered high ash tree mortality by 2008, to numbers 50–100 km from the epicenter and to control sites within 50 km of five comparable Midwestern cities where damage due to EAB has yet to be severe. We found evidence for significant effects on all four of the species in response to the EAB invasion in the highly impacted region, with red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) and white-breasted nuthatches showing numerical increases while downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) and hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) initially declined but exhibited at least temporary increases several years later. Temporal correlation analyses failed to provide support for immigration being a major cause of the elevated numbers in the highly impacted area, and thus these results are consistent with the hypothesis that increases were due to enhanced survival and/or reproduction associated with the EAB invasion within the highly impacted area. Results suggest that the continuing invasion of EAB into new areas is likely to significantly alter avian communities, although not always in ways that will be easy to predict.


Citizen science Emerald ash borer Forest pests Invasive species Nuthatch Woodpeckers