Click here to view Andreas' PowerPoint presentation with audio
Wildlife Response to Aspen Decline and Restoration: Current Status and Future Directions
Andreas Leidolf, Westminster College, Fulton, MO, and Ronald J. Ryel, Utah State University, Logan, UT.
The loss of montane aspen forest to invasion by conifers is a prime example of the many vegetation changes that have occurred in the Intermountain West over the past century. Certainly, wildlife habitat and species diversity have been negatively affected by these changes, but evidence indicates that water yield may have also been significantly reduced. Recent prolonged periods of drought in the Intermountain West have thus led to renewed interest in vegetation manipulation and restoration for the purpose of increasing water yield, decreasing fire potential, and improving habitat quality of forests and rangelands, including aspen. Yet, the response of wildlife, such as birds and small mammals, to aspen restoration is largely unknown.
Here, we review the state of our knowledge regarding the response of wildlife to aspen decline and restoration. Because of the relative paucity of studies from montane aspen, we make frequent reference to work conducted in boreal aspen communities. In addition to providing a comprehensive review, we also identify gaps in our knowledge, suggest research questions most in need of attention, and highlight areas of research that hold the greatest promise for the elucidation of general response patterns. In doing so, we focus primarily on the study of avian communities for several reasons: birds are extremely sensitive to spatio-temporal changes in the environment; are generally viewed as important indicators of ecosystem integrity; provide a simultaneous assessment of a wide range of ecosystem attributes; and are easily and inexpensively monitored using well-established and easily replicated protocols. We also discuss the implications and limitations of using birds as a model organism for assessing wildlife response to aspen restoration.