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 http://dx.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.


Antos M. J. White J. G. 2004 Birds of remnant vegetation on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia: the role of interiors, edges and roadsides. Pacific Conservation Biology 9 294 301

Baker J. Goldingay R. L. Whelan R. J. 1998 Powerline easements through forests: a case study of impacts on avifauna. Pacific Conservation Biology 4 79 89

Barrett G., Silcocks A., Barry S., Cunningham R. and Poulter R. (2003). ‘The New Atlas of Australian Birds.’ (Birds Australia: Melbourne.)

Batey I. 1907 On fifteen thousand acres: its bird-life sixty years ago. Emu 7 1 17

Bauer J., and Goldney D. (2000). Extinction processes in a transitional agricultural landscape system. In ‘Temperate Eucalypt Woodlands in Australia’. (Eds R. J. Hobbs and C. J. Yates.) pp.107–126. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Bennett A. F. Ford L. A. 1997 Land use, habitat change and the conservation of birds in fragmented rural environments: a landscape perspective from the northern plains, Victoria, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 3 244 261

Bennett A. F. Lumsden L. F. Nicholls A. O. 1994 Tree hollows as a resource for wildlife in remnant woodlands: spatial and temporal patterns across the northern plains of Victoria, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 1 222 235

Bennett A., Brown G., Lumsden L., Hespe D., Krasna S., and Silins J. (1998). ‘Fragments for the Future: Wildlife in the Victorian Riverina (The Northern Plains).’ (DNRE: Melbourne.)

Campi M. J. Mac Nally R. 2001 Birds on edge: avian assemblages along forest–agricultural boundaries of central Victoria, Australia. Animal Conservation 4 121 132

Christidis L., and Boles W. E. (1994). ‘The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories.’ (RAOU: Melbourne.)

Clarke K. R., and Warwick R. M. (1994). ‘Change in Marine Communities: An Approach to Statistical Analysis and Interpretation.’ (Plymouth Marine Laboratory: Plymouth, UK.)

Crome F. H. J. 1978 Foraging ecology of an assemblage of birds in lowland rainforest in northern Queensland. Australian Journal of Ecology 3 195 212

Date E. M. Ford H. A. Recher H. F. 2002 Impacts of logging, fire and grazing regimes on bird species assemblages of the Pilliga woodlands of New South Wales. Pacific Conservation Biology 8 177 195

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2001). Mid-Murray Forest Management Area proposed forest management plan. DNRE, Melbourne.

Emison W. B., Beardsell C. M., Norman F. I., Loyn R. H., and Bennett S. (1987). ‘Atlas of Victorian Birds.’ (DCFL and RAOU: Melbourne.)

Ford H. A., and Barrett G. (1995). The role of birds and their conservation in agricultural systems. In ‘People and Nature Conservation: Perspectives on Private Land Use and Endangered Species Recovery’. (Eds A. Bennett, G. Backhouse and T. Clark.) pp. 128–134. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Ford H. A. Noske S. Bridges L. 1986 Foraging of birds in eucalypt woodland in north-eastern New South Wales. Emu 86 168 179

Ford H., Barrett G., and Recher H. (1995). Birds in a degraded landscape – safety nets for capturing regional biodiversity. In ‘Nature Conservation 4: The Role of Networks’. (Eds D. A. Saunders, J. I. Craig and E. M. Mattiske.) pp. 43–50. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Ford H. A. Barrett G. W. Saunders D. A. Recher H. F. 2001 Why have birds in the woodlands of southern Australia declined? Biological Conservation 97 71 88

Freemark K. E. Merriam H. G. 1986 Importance of area and habitat heterogeneity to bird assemblages in temperate forest fragments. Biological Conservation 36 115 141 DOI

Frith D. W. 1984 Foraging ecology of birds in an upland tropical rainforest in north Queensland. Australian Wildlife Research 11 325 347

Griffin A. C. M. 1974 Birds of Mount Spec. Sunbird 5 29 39

Heron S. J. 1973 Birds of the Orange district, NSW. Emu 73 1 8

Hill G. F. 1907 Birds of the Ararat district. Emu 7 18 23

Hobbs J. N. 1961 The birds of south-west New South Wales. Emu 61 21 55

Hobbs R. 2003 The wheatbelt of Western Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 9 9 11

Holmes R. T. Recher H. F. 1986 Determinants of guild structure in forest bird communities: an intercontinental comparison. Condor 88 427 439

Johnson D. D. P. Mighell J. S. 1999 Dry-season bird diversity in tropical rainforest and surrounding habitats in north-east Australia. Emu 99 108 120

Kavanagh R. P. Stanton M. A. 2003 Bird population recovery 22 years after intensive logging near Eden, New South Wales. Emu 103 221 231

Kennedy S. J. 2003 A four-year study of a bird community in a woodland remnant near Moyston, western Victoria. Corella 27 33 44

Kirkpatrick J. B., and Gilfedder L. (2000). Distribution, ecology and conservation status of lowland and subalpine woodlands in Tasmania. In ‘Temperate Eucalypt Woodlands in Australia’. (Eds R. J. Hobbs and C. J. Yates.) pp.45–56. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Kitchener D. J. Dell J. Muir B. G. Palmer M. 1982 Birds in Western Australian wheatbelt reserves: implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 22 127 163

Kutt A. S. 1996 Bird population density in thinned, unthinned and old lowland regrowth forest, east Gippsland, Victoria. Emu 96 280 284

LCC (1983). Report on the Murray Valley area. Land Conservation Council, Melbourne.

Lindenmayer D. B. Cunningham R. B. Donnelly C. F. Nix H. Lindemayer B. D. 2002 Effects of forest fragmentation on bird assemblages in a novel landscape context. Ecological Monographs 72 1 18

Loyn R. H. (1985a). Birds in fragmented forests in Gippsland, Victoria. In ‘Birds of Eucalypt Forests and Woodlands: Ecology, Conservation, Management’. (Eds A. Keast, H. F. Recher, H. Ford and D. Saunders.) pp. 323–331. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Loyn R. H. 1985 b Bird populations in successional forests of mountain ash Eucalyptus regnans in central Victoria. Emu 85 213 230

Loyn R. H. (1987). Effects of patch area and habitat on bird abundances, species numbers and tree health in fragmented Victorian forests. In: ‘Nature Conservation: the Role of Remnants of Native Vegetation’. (Eds D. A. Saunders, G. W. Arnold, A. A. Burbidge and A. J. M. Hopkins.) pp. 65–77. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Loyn R. H. Lumsden L. F. Ward K. A. 2002 Vertebrate fauna of Barmah Forest, a large forest of river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis on the floodplain of the Murray River. Victorian Naturalist 119 114 132

Luck G. W. Possingham H. P. Paton D. C. 1999 Bird responses at inherent and induced edges in the Murray Mallee, South Australia. 1. Differences in abundance and diversity. Emu 99 157 169

Mac Nally R. 1997 Population densities in a bird community of a wet sclerophyllous Victorian forest. Emu 97 253 258

Mac Nally R. Horrocks G. Pettifer L. 2002 Experimental evidence for potential beneficial effects of fallen timber in forests. Ecological Applications 12 1588 1594

Major R. E. Christie F. J. Gowing G. 2001 Influence of remnant and landscape attributes on Australian woodland bird communities. Biological Conservation 102 47 66

Miller J. R. Cale P. 2000 Behavioural mechanisms and habitat use by birds in a fragmented agricultural landscape. Ecological Applications 10 1723 1748

Parks Victoria (2002). Terrick Terrick National Park management plan. Parks Victoria, Melbourne.

Paton D. C., Presscott M. A., Davies R. J. P., and Heard L. M. (2000). The distribution, status and threats to temperate woodlands in South Australia. In ‘Temperate Eucalypt Woodlands in Australia’. (Eds R. J. Hobbs and C. J. Yates.) pp. 57–85. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Recher H. F. 1999 The state of Australia’s avifauna: a personal opinion and prediction for the new millenium. Australian Zoologist 31 11 27

Recher H. F. Davis W. E. 1997 Foraging ecology of a mulga bird community. Wildlife Research 24 27 43

Recher H. F. Davis W. E. 1998 The foraging profile of a wandoo woodland avifauna in early spring. Australian Journal of Ecology 23 514 527

Recher H. F. Davis W. E. 2002 The foraging profile of a salmon gum woodland avifauna in Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 85 103 111

Recher H. F., and Holmes R. T. (1985). Foraging ecology and seasonal patterns of abundance in a forest avifauna. In ‘Birds of Eucalypt Forests and Woodlands: Ecology, Conservation, Management’. (Eds A. Keast, H. F. Recher, H. Ford and D. Saunders.) pp. 79–96. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Recher H. F. Lim L. 1990 A review of the current ideas of extinction, conservation and management of Australia’s terrestrial vertebrate fauna. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16 287 301

Recher H. F. Holmes R. T. Schulz M. Shields J. Kavanagh R. 1985 Foraging patterns of birds in eucalypt forest and woodland on the tablelands of south-eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology 10 399 419

Recher H. F. Davis W. E. Calver M. C. 2002 Comparative foraging ecology of five species of ground-pouncing birds in western Australian woodlands with comments on species decline. Ornithological Science 1 29 40

Reid J. R. W. (1999). Threatened and declining birds in the New South Wales sheep–wheat belt. 1. Diagnosis, characteristics and management. Consultancy report to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology, Canberra.

Robinson D. (1994). Research plan for threatened woodland birds of southeastern Australia. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series No. 133.

Robinson D. Traill B. J. 1996 Conserving woodland birds in the wheat and sheep belts of southern Australia. Wingspan 6 Supplement 1 16

Rolls E. C. (1969). ‘They All Ran Wild.’ (Angus and Robertson: Sydney.)

Rowley I. 1961 Birds of Dookie Agricultural College, Victoria. Emu 61 7 17

SAC (2000). Final Recommendation on a nomination for listing: Victorian temperate-woodland bird community (nomination No. 512). Scientific Advisory Committee, Flora and Fauna Guarantee. Department of Natural Resources and Environment: Melbourne.

Saunders D. A. 1989 Changes in the avifauna of a region, district and remnant as a result of fragmentation of native vegetation: the wheatbelt of Western Australia. A case study. Biological Conservation 50 99 135

Saunders D. A. Curry P. J. 1990 The impact of agricultural and pastoral industries on birds in the southern half of Western Australia: past, present and future. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16 303 321

Watson J. Watson A. Paull D. Freudenberger D. 2003 Woodland fragmentation is causing the decline of species and functional groups of birds in southeastern Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 8 261 270

Woinarski J. C. Z. 1993 A cut-and-paste community: birds of monsoon rainforests in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. Emu 93 100 120

Woinarski J. C. Z. Fisher A 1995 Wildlife of lancewood (Acacia shirleyi) thickets and woodlands in northern Australia. 2. Comparisons with other environments of the region (Acacia woodlands, Eucalyptus savanna woodlands and monsoon rainforests). Wildlife Research 22 413 443

Export Citation