Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

How important are different types of temperate woodlands for ground-foraging birds?

Mark J. Antos A B and Andrew F. Bennett A

A Landscape Ecology Research Group, School of Ecology and Environment, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: antos@deakin.edu.au

Wildlife Research 32(6) 557-572 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR04118
Submitted: 17 November 2004  Accepted: 26 May 2005   Published: 18 October 2005


There is widespread concern about population decline in a number of woodland-dependent birds in southern Australia. Of all declining species, approximately half forage on the ground. This study examined the avifaunal assemblages of temperate woodlands of the Northern Plains, Victoria, to investigate the importance of woodland habitats for ground-foraging species. Four main types of woodland were surveyed (white cypress-pine, black box, grey box and river red gum) and, in total, 89 bird species were detected. All four woodland types differed in habitat structure and, in turn, supported significantly different avifaunal assemblages. Forty of the 89 species (45%) foraged, at least in part, on the ground. Species richness and abundance of ground-foragers differed significantly between woodland types, being highest in white cypress-pine and black box. There was a greater richness of ground-foragers during the breeding than non-breeding season, but abundance did not vary seasonally. Overall, ground-foraging birds comprised a greater proportion of species (>55%) and individuals (>60%) in white cypress-pine and black box woodland than in grey box and river red gum (42–48% of species, <50% individuals). Those ground-foragers regarded as declining also occurred in greatest richness in white cypress-pine woodlands, one of the most depleted habitats in the region. The lowest richness of ‘declining’ ground-foraging species was in river red gum woodland, the most widespread woodland type. Throughout Australia, the proportion of ground-foraging species in bird assemblages tends to be greater in temperate, semi-arid or arid woodlands than in moist forests and rainforests. However, in many regions woodland habitats are severely depleted and their open ground layer is particularly vulnerable to degradation. The extent of suitable habitat for ground-foraging birds in temperate woodlands may be much less than is apparent from current measures of tree cover. Sustainable management of drier (non-riverine) temperate woodlands is required to conserve this important element of the Australian avifauna.


Logistical and financial support for this research was provided by the School of Ecology and Environment, Deakin University. We are also grateful for financial support provided by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund, the Stuart Leslie Research Fund and Birds Australia’s Vicgroup Research Fund. We thank Professor Harry Recher and two anonymous referees for comments on the manuscript. Dr John White provided useful advice throughout the course of this research.


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