Faculty-Student Research Published in Forest Ecology and Management
May 11, 2010
May 11, 2010, Greencastle, Ind. — The work of three recent DePauw University graduates and their professor is published in the new issue (Volume 259, Issue 12) of the journal Forest Ecology and Management. Charlotte P. Buehler and Chad M. Byers -- both 2008 DePauw graduates -- and Summer E. Drake '09 authored "Forest composition, leaf litter, and songbird communities in oak- vs. maple-dominated forests in the eastern United States" with Vanessa L. Fox, associate professor of biology and program coordinator of the DePauw Nature Park. The research was conducted at DePauw.
An abstract of the article states, "Within the eastern deciduous forest region, forest composition varies, with some areas dominated by a mix of oaks (Quercus spp.) and other areas dominated by a mix of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and other tree species. Prescribed fire is being used on an experimental basis to assess its effectiveness in restoring and maintaining oak-dominated forests. Maple-dominated forests are susceptible to invasion by non-native earthworms, such as Lumbricus terrestris, given the palatability of leaf litter and suitable soil conditions, especially in northern parts of the region. What are the implications of this variation on leaf litter availability and habitat for ground-nesting songbirds? We investigated this question by comparing forest composition, leaf litter, and songbird communities in maple-dominated forests in west-central Indiana and oak-dominated forests, recently burned and unburned, in southeastern Ohio. We also assessed abundance of earthworms and decomposition rates of different types of leaves in the maple-dominated forests in Indiana. Leaf litter and ground-nesting bird species were abundant in unburned oak-dominated forests, but were absent or nearly absent in recently burned oak-dominated forests and in maple-dominated forests. The lack of leaf litter and absence of ground-nesting bird species in maple-dominated forests may be due to the combination of abundant non-native earthworms, alkaline and calcium-rich soils, palatable leaves, and rapid leaf litter decomposition rates. Effects of burning on leaf litter and ground-nesting bird species in oak-dominated forests are probably temporary, as long as prescribed fires are not applied on a frequent or widespread basis. Our study is the first one to show a correlation between forest composition, leaf litter availability, earthworm abundance, and songbird populations. Many researchers are investigating effects of non-native earthworm invasions on ecosystem properties in eastern deciduous forests. We recommend that researchers should also monitor songbird populations to assess whether declines in ground-nesting bird populations are occurring in response to these changes."
Forest Ecology and Management publishes scientific articles that link forest ecology with forest management, and that apply biological and ecological knowledge to the management and conservation of man-made and natural forests. Learn more by clicking here.