Recent Paper: Species distribution and richness patterns of avian communities in the high-elevation forests of Virginia



The southern Appalachians support a unique forest ecosystem at higher elevations in which the breedingdistribution of several bird species of conservation concern extends to unusually southern latitudes. The dualthreats of rising global temperatures and potential wind energy development may impact these forests byreducing or fragmenting preferred habitat. A better understanding of which bird species are sensitive to changeand how habitat composition and configuration drive species richness across all elevations is essential for derivinglocal management plans and preserving regional diversity. We conducted bird surveys and corresponding siteand landscape level habitat surveys at multiple high elevation sites on public forests in Virginia from 2005-2007.We detected 101 species at 1,341 points, including 12 species of state or federal conservation concern. Wegenerated multiple models using 10 species whose presence increased with elevation to determine the relativecontribution of habitat characteristics at the local and landscape levels. These models indicate that elevationsensitive species respond to multiple habitat scales in a species-specific manner and that management plansshould consider more than habitat type. In addition, we show that species richness declines with increasingelevation throughout the region until the highest elevations, where the trend reverses and richness begins toincrease. This pattern is driven by differences between migratory guilds and may be caused by more than habitatassociations alone. Results highlight the importance of considering scale when determining species distribution and richness and the need to consider multiple habitat factors in conservation planning and management ofhigh-elevation forests.