University of Wisconsin–Madison
Spatial Analysis For Conservation and Sustainability

Habitat resilience for songbirds: The role of topographic position in a mixed deciduous forest

Download Persche and Pidgeon 2020

Climate change is altering patterns of resource availability and this may have negative effects on insectivorous forest birds in the US upper Midwest. As invertebrate life cycle phenology shifts due to earlier spring leaf-out, nesting birds are vulnerable to phenological mismatches between food supply and demand. Areas with complex topography, and thus a variety of thermal and humidity conditions, may support a greater variety of plant and invertebrate phenological rates and stages within close proximity than are found in areas with simple topography. However, the extent and magnitude of this phenomenon is unclear, as is the degree to which topographic position may influence the ability of species to persist during extreme conditions. We examined the effects of topographic position on the
phenology of a tri-trophic forest system over two years from spring through mid-summer. We hypothesized that in cool microsites the likelihood of trophic mismatches and late season food shortages is lower than in warm microsites. At 70 sites in the Baraboo Hills, part of the Driftless Area of the US Midwest, we recorded leaf-out timing of over 700 deciduous trees, measured weekly changes in invertebrate biomass on understory foliage, and conducted bird point counts to assess avian species richness and density. In stream gorges, cooler temperatures were associated with slight but significant delays in leaf-out timing of canopy and understory deciduous trees relative to upland sites. At all sites, invertebrate biomass was distributed relatively evenly across the study period, in contrast to other temperate zone sites where phenological mismatches have been reported between birds and their invertebrate prey. Invertebrate
biomass was similar in stream gorges and uplands in both study years. Insectivorous bird species richness was greater in stream gorges than in the surrounding upland forest during both seasons and was positively related to Lepidoptera larvae biomass in the understory. Among eight abundant insectivorous bird species, density was similar in uplands and stream gorges, among four species density was higher in uplands, and density of two species was higher in stream gorges. These results suggest that insectivorous birds within this study area are unlikely to experience trophic mismatches, and that despite having cooler microclimates and higher avian species richness, stream gorges did not provide more invertebrate food resources than uplands under the climate conditions of the years in which we
sampled this tri-trophic system.