The wood that remains after a tree harvesting operation is often burned to reduce the hazard of fire or is removed for bioenergy production. But another option should be considered -- leaving the wood for forest wildlife whose habitat has been disturbed during clear-cut forestry operations. Woody debris on the floor of the forest is essential for maintaining biodiversity and long-term ecosystem productivity.
The Journal of Mammalogy presents a study of coarse woody debris left behind from forestry and salvage harvesting of wood. Researchers tested the abundance and species diversity of small forest-floor mammals under varying wood conditions: dispersed wood debris, piles of wood debris, windrows of wood debris, and uncut mature forest.
Clear-cutting remains the dominant method of forestry in North America and northern Europe. This process can interrupt the ecology of the forest. Small mammals that offer prey for predators, consume plants and invertebrates, and disperse fungal spores may disappear.
The current study was conducted in three locations in British Columbia, Canada, from 2007 to 2009. The responses of animals to the four types of wooded areas were recorded. Small mammals were captured, tagged, and released at each of the sites to determine the number of species present. In the winter, their tracks were counted to determine the frequency of animal visits to particular habitats or features.
Nine species of small mammals were captured. Contrary to expectations, species were just as abundant in clear-cut areas as they were in uncut matureforest. However, generalist species, such as deer mouse, chipmunk, and shrew, increased while specialist species, such as the red-backed vole, declined. The red-backed vole is important as a principal prey for marten, a species of concern in Canada.
The number and diversity of species, including the red-backed vole, increased primarily around piles and windrows of woody debris. These stacks, at least 2 meters high and 5 meters wide, offer a conservation measure that can benefit the small natives of the forest floor.
- Thomas P. Sullivan, Druscilla S. Sullivan, Pontus M. F. Lindgren, and Douglas B. Ransome. If we build habitat, will they come? Woody debris structures and conservation of forest mammals. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 93, No. 6, 2012 DOI: 10.1644/11-MAMM-A-250.1
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