Heart Rot and Cavity Tree Selection by Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers
Previous studies implied that decayed heartwood was important to cavity tree selection by red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealfs), but the results were inconclusive because they either lacked a control or were limited to 1 age class of trees. We compared the incidence of heart rot in loblolly and longleaf pines (Pinus taeda and P. palustris) undergoing cavity excavation to the incidence of heart rot in control trees of similar age, size, and growth rate in Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina. The incidence of decayed heartwood was not similar in cavity and control trees (P < 0.001); woodpeckers selected trees with decayed heartwood. Similarities between the woodpecker's behavior in South Carolina and previous studies from other portions of the bird's range suggest a universal preference for trees with decayed heartwood. Because the incidence of heart rot increases with tree age, our results support past recommendations that longleaf pines 295 years old and loblolly pines 275 years old be provided to red-cockaded woodpeckers for future cavity trees.