Landscape Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 533–549 | Cite as

Bird response to disturbance varies with forest productivity in the northwestern United States

  • David B. McWethy
  • Andrew J. Hansen
  • Jake P. Verschuyl
Research Article


Huston’s Dynamic Equilibrium Hypothesis predicts that the response of biodiversity to disturbance varies with productivity. Because disturbance is thought to break competitive advantage of dominant species in productive ecosystems, species richness is predicted to increase with disturbance frequency in productive systems. Recovery of plant biomass following disturbance is also predicted to be faster in productive systems. Here we provide the first test of Huston’s hypothesis in the context of setting harvest rates in managed forests for achieving biodiversity objectives. We examined predictions relating to vegetation and bird response to disturbance and succession in productive and less productive forests in western Oregon and Washington, USA. We found that measurements of understory cover and shrub diversity were higher in young, productive stands than less productive stands of similar age. Later-seral forests in productive environments (mean age = 67 years) had less variable and more complete canopy closure than similar-age forests in less favorable settings. At the stand scale, bird abundance and richness decreased with canopy closure in highly productive forests whereas bird abundance and richness increased with canopy closure in less productive forests. At the landscape scale, bird abundance and richness within stands increased with increasing levels of disturbance in the surrounding landscape within highly productive forests, whereas bird abundance and richness decreased with increasing disturbance in the surrounding landscape within less productive forests. Our results indicate that bird response to disturbance varies across levels of productivity and suggest that bird species abundance and associated species richness will be maximized through relatively more frequent disturbance in highly productive systems.


Disturbance Productivity Dynamic equilibrium Intermediate disturbance hypothesis Competition Forest ecology Forest management Birds Diversity 



We thank the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their support of this research. We appreciate the cooperation of industry land owners and staff that made our data collection possible. We also thank the entire field staff involved in this project for their hard work and diligence. Previous versions of this manuscript were greatly improved by the comments of M. A. Huston.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David B. McWethy
    • 1
  • Andrew J. Hansen
    • 1
  • Jake P. Verschuyl
    • 2
  1. 1.Ecology DepartmentMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  2. 2.NCASI Western Wildlife ProgramAnacortesUSA

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