Impacts of mountaintop mining on terrestrial ecosystem integrity: identifying landscape thresholds for avian species in the central Appalachians, United States

Abstract

Context

Mountaintop removal/valley fill (MTR/VF) mining in the central Appalachians is a major driver of landscape change within terrestrial ecosystems.

Objective

We quantified avian community and individual taxa thresholds in response to changing landscapes from MTR/VF using a Threshold Indicator Taxa Analysis approach.

Methods

We conducted 50-m fixed radius avian surveys (n = 707) within forest adjacent to mine lands in 2012–2013 and obtained data for additional surveys (n = 905) sampled using comparable methods during 2008–2013. We quantified positive and negative community, habitat guild, and species thresholds in abundance and occurrence for each of five landscape metrics within a 1-km radius of each survey point.

Results

Reclaimed mine-dominated landscapes (less forest and more grassland/shrubland cover) elicited more negative (57 %) than positive (39 %) species responses. Negative thresholds for each landscape metric generally occurred at lower values than positive thresholds, thus negatively responding species were detrimentally affected before positively responding species benefitted. Forest interior birds generally responded negatively to landscape metric thresholds, interior edge species responses were mixed, and early successional birds responded positively. The forest interior guild declined most at 4 % forest loss, while the shrubland guild increased greatest after 52 % loss. Based on random forest importance ranks, total amount of landscape grassland/shrubland had the most influence, although this varied by guild.

Conclusions

Because of little overlap in habitat requirements, managing landscapes simultaneously to maximally benefit both guilds may not be possible. Our avian thresholds identify single community management targets accounting for scarce species. Guild or individual species thresholds allow for species-specific management.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for project funding. Jackie Strager and Aaron Maxwell provided invaluable help in creating the land-cover layers and deriving landscape metrics. Ryan King provided assistance with use and interpretation of TITAN. Ryan King, Ruthe Smith, and Jim Wickham provided comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Finally, we thank all the sources who provided additional data for use in our analyses including the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the USFS Daniel Boone National Forest, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Jeremy Mizel, Molly McDermott, and Matthew Shumar. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Douglas A. Becker.

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Becker, D.A., Wood, P.B., Strager, M.P. et al. Impacts of mountaintop mining on terrestrial ecosystem integrity: identifying landscape thresholds for avian species in the central Appalachians, United States. Landscape Ecol 30, 339–356 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-014-0134-8

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Keywords

  • Forest fragmentation and management
  • TITAN
  • Avian landscape response
  • Surface mining
  • Community thresholds
  • Species-specific change points