Bird Abundance and Microhabitat Associations with Oak Mistletoe in Willamette Valley Oak Woodlands Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/g445ch15g

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  • In the last 200 years there have been significant declines in the amount and structural complexity of oak-dominated forests and savannahs in the Pacific Northwest. Restoring oak systems often involves selectively thinning stands of oaks in order to reduce competition for sunlight. In choosing which trees to cut, land managers often remove trees with obvious signs of disease or infection. One such infection is the parasitic mistletoe Phoradendron villosum, commonly referred to as Oak Mistletoe. However, the consequences of removing mistletoe-laden trees from the woodlands for oak-associated wildlife have not been studied. Mistletoe species play an important role in ecosystems globally, by providing habitat resources for wildlife, but the role of Oak Mistletoe in an oak-dominated ecosystem is almost completely undocumented. In order to investigate relationships between Oak Mistletoe and bird abundance and diversity, I quantified breeding bird use of Oregon White Oaks (Quercus garryana) with mistletoe loads between zero and 112 plants per tree, at five study sites in the Willamette Valley in the spring of 2014. In addition, I quantified six microhabitat features related to mistletoe infection, including branch swellings, dead wood, loose/missing bark, natural cavities, excavated cavities, deep cracks in the bole, and bole coverage by Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). My results suggest that 1) structural heterogeneity within the crown of the tree and 2) bird abundance, species richness, and use of trees are positively associated with mistletoe load. In order to investigate the use of Oak Mistletoe fruits as a wildlife food resource, I recruited citizen scientists to record observations of birds feeding on mistletoe fruits in the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015 in western Oregon. In addition, I installed six camera traps in Oregon White Oak trees in order to capture additional observations of birds and other wildlife feeding on Oak Mistletoe fruits. My results suggest that Oak Mistletoe is a fall and winter food resource for Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana), American Robins (Turdus migratorius), Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum), Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), and Western Grey Squirrels (Sciurus griseus). In this study, Western Bluebirds were observed to feed on mistletoe fruits up to 14 times more frequently than other bird species. By retaining some trees with mistletoe in the crown, land managers may be able to maintain the habitat quality for some wildlife species that use the microhabitat features and fruit resources associated with mistletoe.
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