Effects of restoring oak savannas on bird communities and populations

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Efforts to restore and maintain oak savannas in North America, with emphasis on the use of prescribed fire, have become common. Little is known, however, about how restoration affects animal populations, especially those of birds. I compared the breeding densities, community structure, and reproductive success of birds in oak savannas maintained by prescribed fire (12 sites) with those in closed-canopy forests (13 sites). All sampling was conducted in Illinois (U.S.A.). Of the 31 bird species analyzed, 12 were more common in savannas, 14 were not affected by habitat structure, and 5 were more common in forest habitat. The species favored by disturbance and restoration included Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus), Mourning Doves ( Zenaida macroura), Red-headed Woodpeckers ( Melanerpes erythrocephalus), Indigo Buntings ( Passerina cyanea), and Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula). Those more common in closed-canopy forest included Ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) and Wood Thrushes ( Hylocichla mustelina). Few species were unique to one type of habitat, but overall avian community structure in oak savannas and closed-canopy forests was generally distinctive. Estimates of nesting success (derived from 785 nests) revealed that 6 of the 13 species considered experienced greater productivity in the savanna habitat. Rates of brood parasitism were unaffected by restoration and habitat structure. Within savannas, tract size had little effect on breeding abundances and reproductive success. My results illustrate that restoration techniques can significantly affect the ecology of constituent animal populations and communities and have key implications regarding avian conservation and the management of forest habitat in fragmented landscapes. Small patches of forest habitat that regularly function as population sinks may offer far better prospects for birds if they are subjected to disturbance and ecosystem restoration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-469
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Bird conservation
  • Disturbance
  • Fragmentation
  • Habitat restoration
  • Nest success
  • Prescribed fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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