Bird's-eye View

Matt BettsIntensively managed plantation forests are seen as one way to meet the high global demand for wood. How do these managed forests look to birds and other native wildlife species? Forest Research Laboratory ecologists are engaged in collaborative research with industry partners to learn more about the potential impacts of intensive forest practices on native wildlife as well as ways to mitigate such impacts.

Swainson's thrushTo the untrained eye, the tall, lush stands of Douglas-fir in a plantation forest may look ideal for wildlife, especially birds. But these production forests, which are efficient for growing conifer trees in the temperate Pacific Northwest, often lack the complex structure and diverse types of habitat that are important for many different kinds of animals. Intensive management often means the removal of competing broadleaf trees and shrubs so that conifers can thrive. This understory vegetation forms critical habitat for wildlife, however. Birds such as the Swainson’s thrush feed on insects and berries from a variety of hardwood trees and shrubs.

Ecologists worldwide have documented the decline in populations of birds and other species, as well as a decline in the amount of forest that is dominated by early-successional broadleaf trees and shrubs. Although there are concerns about the possible connection between the two trends, there is a lack of information. Matt Betts and his research team in the Department of Ecosystems and Society are developing new ways to analyze trends in forest biodiversity.

Betts studies the ways that landscape composition and pattern influence animal behavior, species distributions and ecosystem function and services. His research in Pacific Northwest forests has found that there is a link between declining populations of certain species and the loss of broadleaf trees and shrubs in intensively managed forests. However, forest management treatments that maintain or restore even small amounts of broadleaf vegetation could mitigate further declines.

With funding from the USDA and National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) as well as partnerships with landowners including Oregon Department of Forestry, Weyerhaeuser, Forest Capital, Plum Creek and Hancock have initiated a large-scale forest management experiment in order to determine how better to manage forestlands to maintain biodiversity. This includes examining the effect of herbicide and associated vegetation changes on bird populations, insect and plant diversity as well as the ecosystem services provided by birds in controlling insect populations.