Evaluating At-Risk Black Ash Wetlands as Biodiversity Hotspots in Northern Forests

Alexis R. Grinde, Melissa B. Youngquist, Robert A. Slesak, Brian J. Palik, Anthony W. D’Amato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Black ash (Fraxinus nigra) forests, which cover over 1.2 million hectares in the Great Lakes Region, are threatened by emerald ash borer (EAB; Agrilus planipennis), which is eliminating native populations of ash throughout the region. Understanding the contribution of black ash wetlands to local and regional species richness is critical in forming effective conservation policies and informing management plans for these imperiled habitats. We measured breeding bird and anuran communities in black ash wetlands and compared them to nearby non-black ash habitats for each taxa: aspen-dominated upland forest for birds and emergent wetlands for anurans. Our results showed black ash wetlands support unique communities of birds but not of anurans. For birds, black ash wetlands had higher species richness and a greater number of birds that were indicator species compared to upland forests; this is likely due the presence of a water component and more structural diversity in black ash wetlands compared to aspen-dominated aspen forests. In contrast, emergent wetlands had higher richness of breeding anurans and greater number indicator species than black ash wetlands; this reflects a general preference by North American anurans to breed in more open canopy habitats. If EAB invades these systems, expected increases in ponding and canopy openness may be beneficial for some anuran species during the breeding season, but loss of the forest canopy could result in significant changes in bird community composition. Our results indicate that implementing management strategies that focus on emulating structural complexity of black ash wetlands will be beneficial for conserving wildlife diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number122
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Special thanks to Katy Johnson, Josh Bednar, and Steve Kolbe for wildlife data collection. Thanks to Michael Joyce for assistance developing lidar variables. We also thank the USDA Forest Service Chippewa National Forest, county land managers, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for providing the sites used in this research. This publication is Natural Resources Research Institute contribution number ###.

Funding Information:
Funding for the implementation of the study design and wildlife surveys was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Additional support for this work came from the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Department of Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, and USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Society of Wetland Scientists.


  • Anurans
  • Birds
  • Black ash
  • Community ecology
  • Forested wetlands


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