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Title: Provision of habitat for black grouse Tetrao tetrix in commercial forest restocks in relation to their management
Author(s): Owen, Jenny
Supervisor(s): Wookey, Phil
Keywords: black grouse
second rotation
whole tree extraction
Issue Date: Jan-2011
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: As planted forests mature and are clearfelled in patches, second rotation tree crops (restocks) become available to black grouse, a species of conservation concern in the UK. Currently, only a limited amount is known about the resources provided by this habitat to black grouse and their broods. The aims of this study therefore, were to investigate the recovery of field-layer vegetation and the invertebrate population from restock through to canopy closure of planted trees, assess the duration of habitat availability and food resources to black grouse, and understand how forest management could improve provision. Changes to the abundance of predators resulting from habitat management were also considered. The comparative habitat quality of restocks was assessed in a wider landscape context. Field-layer vegetation in 72 restocks in two afforested areas in the north-east and the south-west of the Scottish Highlands was surveyed. On average, only 60% of ground in restocks was re-planted with second rotation trees, with the remainder left unplanted. Initial vegetation recovery was generally impeded by timber harvest residues (mainly brash), which comprised up to 50% of total ground cover two years after restock. Increased cover of heather Calluna vulgaris, often an important component of black grouse habitat, and decreased brash cover were recorded in areas of restocks where first-rotation timber was removed by cable-winch (compared with harvester and forwarder removal) and in planted areas (compared with areas left unplanted). Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and cotton grass Eriophorum spp. occurrence was recorded infrequently irrespective of restock age or management. Heather generally dominated the field-layer six years after restock, reaching a height and density reported to be suitable for black grouse nesting and brood cover in other studies. The onset of tree canopy closure as early as eight years suggests that suitable black grouse habitat availability in restocks is likely to be severely limited in duration. Brash removal, or break-up and re-distribution of the brash layer, positively affected the recovery of field-layer vegetation species potentially of use to black grouse. Extending the fallow period prior to restock resulted in an extended period of suitable habitat available to black grouse prior to canopy closure. However, habitat created by extending the fallow period also attracted a higher number of mammalian predators of black grouse. In the longer term, areas of restocks left unplanted should provide a valuable open-ground resource after canopy closure of the planted crop, although results suggest that management to prevent encroachment of naturally regenerating non-native trees is likely to be necessary. Invertebrate taxa selected by chicks in previous black grouse studies were available in all ages of restock studied. Taxa abundance differed as restocks aged and field-layer vegetation developed, although contrasting habitat preferences of taxa meant that each was affected differently by restock management. No single forest management method positively increased abundance of all taxa. Abundance of Lepidoptera larvae, a key food item for black grouse chicks, was positively related to dwarf shrub cover. An extended fallow period prior to restock should prolong increased larvae availability to chicks. Provision of preferred field-layer vegetation habitat and invertebrate abundance in restocks was comparable to habitat surrounding leks - areas likely to be occupied and utilised by black grouse. Restocks had a comparatively low occurrence of key plant species, including bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and cotton grass Eriophorum spp. Cover of the dwarf shrub bog myrtle Myrica gale, positively associated with Lepidoptera larvae abundance in habitat surrounding leks, was absent from restocks. The abundance of other invertebrate taxa considered was similar between leks and restocks. Study findings are discussed with reference to black grouse conservation and commercial forestry systems in Europe. Management recommendations to improve habitat for black grouse in second rotation planted forests in Britain are provided.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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