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The white-backed woodpecker: umbrella species for forest conservation planning?

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Abstract

In northern Europe, a long history of land use has led to profound changes within forest ecosystems. The white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) is one of several specialised forest species whose populations have declined. Conservation management directed at this species’ habitat has made it a de facto umbrella species for conservation of the biodiversity associated with forests rich in deciduous trees and dead wood. We assessed empirically the value of the white-backed woodpecker as an indicator and umbrella species in central Sweden. Occurrence of the woodpecker in breeding bird atlas squares (5 × 5 km2) indicated high species richness of forest birds, particularly species of special conservation concern, which included on average 13% more species in squares with than without the woodpecker. The number of red-listed cryptogam species expected to benefit from conservation actions directed at white-backed woodpecker habitats was higher in squares where the woodpecker bred compared to where is was absent. However, no such pattern was found for red-listed beetles, a group with very few records in the studied squares. White-backed woodpecker occurrence was positively associated with the current area of deciduous and mixed forest of high conservation value. Considering its indicator value, its specialised habitat requirements and its potential as a communication tool, using the white-backed woodpecker as an umbrella species may provide a coarse filter for the conservation of several other deciduous forest species. However, focusing solely on white-backed woodpecker habitat may not provide for the conservation of all such species, which stresses the need for a suite of complementary planning approaches.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Angelstam, L. Gustafsson, K. Perhans and M.-A. Villard for constructive comments on the manuscript at various stages. We are grateful to all field ornithologists who contributed to the Swedish Bird Atlas work. U.T. Carlsson kindly gave access to the original data sheets from Värmland. We also thank P. Nyman, A. Larsson, U. Wahlström and E. Mohlin at the Swedish Forest Agency and J. Edelsjö and O. Kindvall at the Swedish Species Information Centre for their help with obtaining forest and species occurrence data. This work was supported by scholarships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies, and Helge Ax:son Johnson Foundation to J.-M.R., as well as a grant from the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA) to G.M.

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Roberge, JM., Mikusiński, G. & Svensson, S. The white-backed woodpecker: umbrella species for forest conservation planning?. Biodivers Conserv 17, 2479–2494 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-008-9394-4

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