Opposing deer and caterpillar foraging preferences may prevent reductions in songbird prey biomass in historically overbrowsed forests
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CitationOpposing deer and caterpillar foraging preferences may prevent reductions in songbird prey biomass in historically overbrowsed forests 2018, 8 (1):560 Ecology and Evolution
JournalEcology and Evolution
Rights© 2017 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
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AbstractOverbrowsing by ungulates decimates plant populations and reduces diversity in a variety of ecosystems, but the mechanisms by which changes to plant community composition influence other trophic levels are poorly understood. In addition to removal of avian nesting habitat, browsing is hypothesized to reduce bird density and diversity through reduction of insect prey on browse-tolerant hosts left behind by deer. In this study, we excluded birds from branches of six tree species to quantify differences in songbird prey removal across trees that vary in deer browse preference. Early in the breeding season, birds preyed on caterpillars at levels proportional to their abundance on each host. Combining these data with tree species composition data from stands exposed to experimentally controlled deer densities over 30 years ago, we tested whether overbrowsing by white-tailed deer reduces prey biomass long after deer densities are reduced. Our analysis predicts total prey availability in the canopy of regenerating forests is fairly robust to historic exposure to high deer densities, though distribution of prey available from host species changes dramatically. This predicted compensatory effect was unexpected and is driven by high prey abundance on a single host tree species avoided by browsing deer, Prunus serotina. Thus, while we confirm that prey abundance on host trees can act as a reliable predictor for relative prey availability, this study shows that quantifying prey abundance across host trees is essential to understanding how changes in tree species composition interact with ungulate browse preference to determine prey availability for songbirds.
NoteOpen access journal.
VersionFinal published version
SponsorsPennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources [WRCP-010376, WRCP-010383]; Division of Environmental Biology [DEB-1120579]; Indiana University of Pennsylvania School of Graduate Studies and Research
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