Background: As a result of past practices, many of the dry coniferous forests of the western United States contain dense, even-aged stands with uncharacteristically high levels of litter and downed woody debris. These changes to the forest have received considerable attention as they elevate concerns regarding the outcome of wildland fire. However, attempts to reduce biomass through fuel reduction (i.e., thinning of trees) are often opposed by public interest groups whose objectives include maintaining habitat for species of concern such as the spotted owl, Strix occidentalis, the northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis, and the Pacific fisher, Martes pennanti. Whether protection of these upper-trophic level species confers adequate conservation of avian forest diversity is unknown. Methodology and Principal Findings: We use a multi-species occurrence model to estimate the habitat associations of 47 avian species detected at 742 sampling locations within an 880-km2 area in the Sierra Nevada. Our approach, which accounts for variations in detectability of species, estimates occurrence probabilities of all species in a community by linking species occurrence models into one hierarchical community model, thus improving inferences on all species, especially those that are rare or observed infrequently. We address how the avian community is influenced by covariates related to canopy cover, tree size and shrub cover while accounting for the impacts of abiotic variables known to affect species distributions. Conclusions and Significance: Environmental parameters estimated through our approach emphasize the importance of within and between stand-level heterogeneity in meeting biodiversity objectives and suggests that many avian species would increase under more open canopy habitat conditions than those favored by umbrella species of high conservation concern. Our results suggest that a more integrated approach that emphasizes maintaining a diversity of habitats across environmental gradients and minimizing urbanization may have a greater benefit to ecosystem functioning then a single-species management focus.
Additional publication details
Conservation of avian diversity in the Sierra Nevada: moving beyond a single-species management focus