Potential impacts of emerald ash borer and adaptation strategies on wildlife communities in black ash wetlands

Alexis R Grinde, Melissa B Youngquist, Robert A Slesak, Stephen R Kolbe, Josh D Bednar, Brian J Palik, Anthony W D'Amato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Black ash wetlands cover approximately 1.2 million ha of wetland forest in the western Great Lakes region, providing critical habitat for wildlife. The future of these wetlands is critically threatened by a variety of factors, including emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis; emerald ash borer [EAB]), which has been eliminating native populations of otherwise healthy ash throughout the Great Lakes region since it was discovered in 2002. To quantify the potential impacts of tree mortality from EAB on wildlife communities, we measured seasonal bird, mammal, and amphibian diversity in black ash wetlands using a dual approach: (1) documenting bird and amphibian species across 27 mature reference black ash wetlands in northern Minnesota, USA and (2) assessing how bird, mammal, and amphibian communities respond to experimental manipulations of black ash forests that emulate mortality and management strategies related to the potential impact of EAB. In total, 85 wildlife species were recorded for the entire study including 57 bird species, 5 amphibian species, and 23 mammal species. Results from the reference sites show that hydrologic regime, percentage of ash canopy cover, and understory cover were important habitat characteristics for bird and amphibian communities. Results from the experimental sites show there may be short-term increases in species richness for mammal and bird communities associated with changes in forest structure due to ash mortality; however, anticipated changes resulting from EAB-caused mortality, particularly the conversion of these sites to non-forested wetlands, will lead to significant shifts in bird and mammal community composition. Loss of ash may cause declines in forest-dependent species and increases in open-canopy and wetland-associated species. Additionally, whereas increased ponding extent and longer hydroperiods may be beneficial for some amphibian species, the loss of the forest canopy will result in an overall decrease in bird diversity and reduce forest connectivity for all species. Our results indicate the potential for significant large-scale impacts of black ash mortality on forest-associated wildlife. Management strategies that focus on establishing alternative trees species to maintain long-term forest cover and structural complexity in these wetlands will help to maintain and conserve wildlife diversity.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcological Appplications
Volume32
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

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