Width of riparian buffer and structure of adjacent plantations influence occupancy of conservation priority birds
Conservation of biodiversity on forest landscapes dominated by plantations has become an increasingly important topic, and opportunities to maintain or enhance biodiversity within these forests need to be recognized and applied. Riparian buffers of mature forest retained along streams in managed forest landscapes offer an opportunity to enhance biodiversity across these landscapes. However, influence of buffer width and structure of adjacent plantations on habitat use by birds is not well understood. We modeled probability of occupancy, while accounting for variable detection probabilities, for 16 bird species of regional conservation importance in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, USA. We examined occurrence of breeding birds in streamside management zone (SMZ) buffers embedded in three structural classes of pine plantation: young open-canopy, closed-canopy, and older thinned plantations. Our occupancy models included a positive association with SMZ width for nine bird species associated with mature forests. Models for three early successional species (prairie warbler [Dendroica discolor], white-eyed vireo [Vireo griseus], and northern bobwhite [Colinus virginianus]) included a negative association with SMZ width. Occupancy models for Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), summer tanager (Piranga rubra), pine warbler (Dendroica pinus), prairie warbler, and northern bobwhite also included structural condition of adjacent plantations, but most species did not appear affected by condition of surrounding plantations. We found diverse responses among species to width of retained SMZs and structure of adjacent plantations; some species apparently benefitted from SMZs[100 m wide, while others benefitted from narrow buffers. Furthermore, most species traditionally associated with mature forests were common in narrow SMZs, regardless of width. Thus, optimal width of SMZs relative to avian conservation depends on the species of greatest conservation interest.