Arthropod abundance and seasonal bird use of bottomland forest harvest gaps
We investigated the influence of arthropod abundance and vegetation structure on shifts in avian use of canopy gap, gap edge, and surrounding forest understory in a bottomland hardwood forest in the Upper Coastal Plain of South Carolina. We compared captures of foliage-gleaning birds among locations during four periods (spring migration, breeding, post-breeding, and fall migration). Foliage arthropod densities were greatest in the forest understory in all four seasons, but understory vegetation density was greatest in gaps. Foliage-gleaning bird abundance was positively associated with foliage-dwelling arthropods during the breeding (F = 18.5, P < 0.001) and post-breeding periods (F = 9.4, P = 0.004), and negatively associated with foliage-dwelling arthropods during fall migration (F = 5.4, P = 0.03). Relationships between birds and arthropods were inconsistent, but the arthropod prey base seemed to be least important during migratory periods. Conversely, bird captures were positively correlated with understory vegetation density during all four periods (P < 0.001). Our study suggests high bird abundance associated with canopy gaps during the non-breeding period resulted less from high arthropod food resource availability than from complex understory and midstory vegetation structure.