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Investigating Targets of Avian Habitat Management to Eliminate an Ecological Trap

DOI: 10.5751/ace-00533-070202

Keywords: behavioral management , disturbance-dependent , evolutionary trap , habitat preference , selective logging , wildfire

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Abstract:

Ecological traps are attractive population sinks created when anthropogenic habitat alteration inadvertently creates a mismatch between the attractiveness of a habitat based upon its settlement cues, and its current value for survival or reproduction. Traps represent a new threat to the conservation of native species, yet little attention has been given to developing practical approaches to eliminating them. In the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Olive-sided Flycatchers (Contopus cooperi) prefer to settle in patches of selectively harvested forest versus burned forest despite the lower reproductive success and higher nest predation risk associated with the former habitat. I investigated characteristics of preferred perch sites for this species and how these preferences varied between habitats and sexes. I then built on previous research to develop a range of management prescriptions for reducing the attractiveness of selectively harvested forest, thereby disarming the ecological trap. Female flycatchers preferred to forage from shorter perch trees than males, and females’ perches were shorter than other available perch trees. Both sexes preferred standing dead perch trees (snags) and these preferences were most obvious in harvested forest where snags are rarer. Because previous research shows that snag density is linked to habitat preference and spruce/fir trees are preferred nest substrate, my results suggest these two habitat components are focal habitat selection cues. I suggest alternative and complementary strategies for eliminating the ecological trap for Olive-sided Flycatchers including: (1) reduced retention and creation of snags, (2) avoiding selective harvest in spruce, fir, and larch stands, (3) avoiding retention of these tree species, and (4) selecting only even-aged canopy height trees for retention so as to reduce perch availability for female flycatchers. Because these strategies also have potential to negatively impact habitat suitability for other forest species or even create new ecological traps, we urge caution in the application of our management recommendations.

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