Long-Term Bird-Timber Trade-offs

Not surprisingly, during my time at Michigan State University many of my posts on this blog focused on the work I was doing there on forest ecosystem management. I’ll continue to write papers and use and develop the simulation model I initiated at MSU, but now I’m back in London I’m sure the emphasis on this blog will switch to the primary work I’ll be doing here. Before it does, here’s a post on the work I’ve done recently related to the Michigan study and which I’m about to submit for review.

I’ve written here previously about how I’ve been working on modelling the long-term impacts of poor tree regeneration on forest structure and estimating bird presence in forests given their structural characteristics. In my last few months in Michigan, I integrated these two issues as part of the development of the integrated ecological-economic simulation model. The aim was to assess trade-offs between between protecting bird species of conservation concern and ensuring the productivity of industrial forests given the variable tree regeneration densities we have seen across our study area and given the timber harvest options available. I was particularly interested in how the variations in tree regeneration we have seen across our study area [we have a paper on these currently under review – more details soon] might influence long-term forest sustainability. Simulation modelling is an excellent way to look at these types of issues over long time periods.

To examine the trade-offs I integrated bird occupancy models I had developed for four bird species (black-throated green warbler, eastern wood pewee, least flycatcher and rose-breasted grosbeak) with our our model of forest gap regeneration and FVS. I then used the model to simulate various scenarios of regeneration and timber harvest prescriptions. For example, I simulated different densities of trees regenerating in the forest gaps created by timber harvest and different proportions of these trees as either sugar maple or ironwood. These are the sorts of variables that Megan Matonis found to vary across our study area and that are most likely driven by white-tailed deer herbivory. With the simulation model we could then look at how these different scenarios influence forest structure and, in turn, bird occupancy probability. We also looked at how different timber harvest prescriptions interact with these different densities and compositions of regenerating trees.

Using our model for a simulated century we found that the four bird species we examined responded uniquely to changes in forest structure (in turn due to the variation in regeneration composition and density and timber harvest prescriptions). We also found that 100-year average timber volume removals, which varied with harvest prescriptions and regeneration, were related to bird occupancy for three of the four species, positively for two and negatively for one. These results suggest that timber harvest prescriptions can be tailored to influence both timber removal volumes and bird occupancy probability, but only when regeneration is adequate. This is illustrated by the figure below for one of the bird species.

Plot illustrating tradeoffs

Mean annual timber removed is plotted on the horizontal axis and mean bird occupancy probability on the vertical axis. The different colours of points are the different densities of regeneration (darker is higher) and the different shapes are the different timber harvest prescriptions. When regeneration is poorer (lighter colours), differences in the volume of timber removed are smaller between prescriptions (horizontal axis) than differences in bird occupancy probability (vertical axis, relative to the uncertainty bars).

These results imply that management actions that promote high tree regeneration rates (for example, by reducing deer herbivory) will benefit both bird populations and timber production in the long-term. Consequently, we suggest that where tree regeneration is currently poor, forest managers should pay closer attention to the long-term impacts of timber harvest prescriptions on bird species.

As I highlighted above, this work is very near being submitted for publication. I’ll post here as the review and publication process progresses (and maybe try to use fewer hyphens in the title).

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