Avian biodiversity may be at risk in eastern parks and forests due to continued expansion of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an exotic homopteran insect native to East Asia. To assess avian biodiversity, mesohabitat relations, and the risk of species loss with declining hemlock forests in Appalachian park lands, 80 randomly distributed fixed-radius plots were established in which territories of breeding birds were estimated on four forest-terrain types (hemlock and hardwood benches and ravines) in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Both species richness and number of territories were higher in hardwood than hemlock forest types and in bench than ravine terrain types. Four insectivorous species, Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), blue-headed vireo (Vireo solitarius), black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens), and Blackburnian warbler (Dendroica fusca), showed high affinity for hemlock forest type and exhibited significantly greater numbers of territories in hemlock than hardwood sites. These species are hemlock-associated species at risk from continued hemlock decline in the Delaware River valley and similar forests of the mid-Atlantic east slope. Two of these species, the blue-headed vireo and Blackburnian warbler, appeared to specialize on ravine mesohabitats of hemlock stands, the vireo a low-to-mid canopy species, the warbler a mid-to-upper canopy forager. Unchecked expansion of the exotic adelgid and subsequent hemlock decline could negatively impact 3,600 pairs from the park and several million pairs from northeastern United States hemlock forests due to elimination of preferred habitat.
Additional publication details
Mesohabitat use of threatened hemlock forests by breeding birds of the Delaware River basin in northeastern United States