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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

How generalist are these forest specialists? What Sweden's avian indicators indicate

Lindbladh, M.; Hedwall, P. -O.; Holmstrom, E.; Petersson, L.; Felton, A.


Monitoring of forest biodiversity and habitats is an important part of forest conservation, but due to the impossible task of monitoring all species, indicator species are frequently used. However, reliance on an incorrect indicator of valuable habitat can reduce the efficiency of conservation efforts. Birds are often used as indicators as they are charismatic, relatively easy to survey, and because we often have knowledge of their habitat and resource requirements. In the Swedish government's environmental quality goals, there are a number of bird species identified as being associated with 'older' and 'high natural value' forests. Here we evaluate the occurrence of four of these indicator species using data from 91 production forest stands and 10 forest reserves in southern Sweden. The bird species assessed are willow tit Poecile montanus, coal tit Periparus ater, European crested tit Lophophanes cristatus and Eurasian treecreeper Certhia familiaris. For the production stands assessed, these indicator species exhibited no significant preferences regarding forest composition and structure, indicating a wider range of habitat associations than expected. These species frequently showed territorial behavior in forest stands <60 and even 40 years of age; much younger than the 120-year threshold for 'older forest' as defined by governmental environmental goals. As almost 80% of the production stands >= 10 years old included at least one of the four indicator species, this raises questions regarding the suitability of these species as indictors of forests of high conservational value in southern Sweden. Notably, besides the four species assessed here, none of the additional indicator taxa identified by the government, were recorded in the 10 reserves. This outcome may reflect the difficulties involved in finding bird indicator species indicative of high natural values in this region. Our results highlight the importance of coupling bird surveys with quantified assessments of proximate vegetation cover.


biodiversity; birds; forest conservation; indicator species; monitoring; surveys

Published in

Animal Conservation
2020, Volume: 23, number: 6, pages: 762-773
Publisher: WILEY