Oak savannas and woodlands historically covered millions of hectares in the midwestern United States but are rare today. We evaluated the ecological distinctiveness and conservation value of savannas and woodlands by examining bird distributions across a fire-maintained woody-vegetation gradient in northwest Indiana encompassing five habitats - open habitats with low canopy cover, savannas, woodlands, scrublands, and forests - during migration, breeding, and overwintering. Savannas and woodlands were significantly different in overall bird species composition from open and forest habitats but were often intermediate between open and forest in guild densities. Few bird species were consistently and highly concentrated in savannas or woodlands, and the Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) was the only species significantly more abundant in savannas and woodlands than in open, scrub, and forest habitats. Fire frequency over a 15-year interval was a significant predictor of bird community composition and was positively related to species diversity, spring transient migrant density, and density of the most threatened species. Each habitat type had characteristics potentially important for avian conservation. Scrub had the highest density of transient migrants, which suggests it plays an important role as migration stopover habitat. More species were significantly concentrated in open or forest habitats than in the other habitats. Lack of species concentration and intermediate community composition suggested that birds experienced savannas and woodlands more as ecotones than as habitats distinct from forests or grasslands. However, this intermediate character can benefit conservation, as evidenced by savannas and woodlands having the highest density of the most threatened species along this woody-vegetation gradient. ?? The American Ornithologists' Union, 2007.
Additional publication details
Distinctiveness, use, and value of midwestern oak savannas and woodlands as avian habitats