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Clearance of understory in urban woodlands: Assessing impact on bird abundance and diversity

Heyman, Erik
Forest ecology and management 2010 v.260 no.1 pp. 125-131
understory, woodlands, urban areas, wild birds, species diversity, density, forest stands, shrubs, recreation areas, forest management, vegetation structure, Sweden
Clearance of understory to enhance the recreational value of the forest is common in urban woodlands. Open forests are generally perceived as safe and pleasant, but clearance is likely to be negative for woodland birds as the shrub layer is important for foraging and protection. In this 3-year experiment with a before after control impact (BACI) design, the effects from understory clearance on woodland bird abundance and diversity in five suburban broadleaved forests in south-western Sweden were studied. Understory clearance was either made in regular patches, with 50% removal of understory, or as “Complete” (90%) removal. Adjacent stands of equal size were left unmanaged as controls. Woodland birds and understory vegetation were surveyed before and after the management. The total density of breeding forest birds decreased in the plots with “Complete” removal of the understory compared to plots with “Patchy” clearance. “Patchy” clearance had no significant effect on bird density. Bird diversity was not affected by the management. Woodland birds are highly valued animals in urban green areas and the impact on bird fauna should therefore be taken into consideration in the development of management plans for urban woodlands. The present study has demonstrated that clearance of understory can have negative effects on bird abundance if carried out over large areas. Clearance in patches was not found to have negative effects on bird abundance and can promote recreational values by increasing visibility and structural variation of the forest.