Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) response to operational silviculture in the central Appalachian region


The Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) is a species of conservation need, with declines linked in part to forest habitat loss on its breeding grounds. Active management of forests benefit the Cerulean Warbler by creating the complex structural conditions preferred by the species, but further research is needed to determine optimal silvicultural strategies. We quantified and compared the broad-scale influence of timber harvests within central Appalachian hardwood forests on estimated abundance and territory density of Cerulean Warblers. We conducted point counts at seven study areas across three states within the central Appalachian region (West Virginia = 4], Kentucky [n = 1], Virginia [n = 2]) and territory mapping at two of the study areas in West Virginia, pre- and post-harvest, for up to five breeding seasons from 2013 to 2017. Our primary objective was to relate change in abundance to topographic and vegetation metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of current Cerulean Warbler habitat management guidelines. We used single-species hierarchical (N-mixture) models to estimate abundance while accounting for detection biases. Pre-harvest mean basal area among study areas was 29.3 m(2)/ ha. Harvesting reduced mean basal area among study areas by 40% (mean 17.2 m(2)/ha) at harvest interior and harvest edge points. Territory density increased 100% (P = 0.003) from pre-harvest to two years post-harvest. Cerulean Warbler abundance increased with increasing percentage of basal area that comprised tree species preferred for foraging and nesting (i.e., white oak species, sugar maple [Acer saccharum], hickories) or of large diameter trees (>= 40.6 cm diameter at breast height). Positive population growth was predicted to occur where these vegetation metrics were > 50% of residual basal area. Post-harvest abundance at harvest interior points was greater than at reference points and when accounting for years-post-harvest in modeling abundance, Cerulean Warbler abundance increased at harvest interior and reference points two years post-harvest and subsequently decreased three years post-harvest. Modeled abundance remained the same at harvest edge points. Increases in abundance and territory density were greater in stands with low pre-harvest densities (< 2 birds/point or < 0.40 territory/ha) of Cerulean Warblers, whereas populations within stands with higher densities pre-harvest had minimal changes in abundance and territory density. Overall, our results indicate that harvests based on the Cerulean Warbler Management Guidelines for Enhancing Breeding Habitat in Appalachian Hardwood Forests, at all available slope positions and aspects where pre-harvest densities are < 0.40 territory/ha, may provide breeding habitat for Cerulean Warblers for at least two years post-harvest in the central Appalachian region.



Cerulean Warbler, Silviculture, N-mixture, Forest bird management, Upland hardwood forest