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

Colonisation of native tree and shrub plantings by woodland birds in an agricultural landscape

G. W. Barrett A B , D. Freudenberger A , A. Drew A , J. Stol A , A. O. Nicholls A and E. M. Cawsey A

A CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: geoff.barrett@csiro.au

Wildlife Research 35(1) 19-32 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR07100
Submitted: 24 July 2007  Accepted: 8 February 2008   Published: 17 March 2008


Tree planting has become a cornerstone strategy for natural resource management in agricultural landscapes, yet its contribution as habitat for woodland birds has not been fully investigated. A case study from the Holbrook region in southern New South Wales was used to assess woodland birds in young plantings of native trees and shrubs. Ground-foraging insectivorous woodland birds were under-represented in the plantings, partly due to a lack of native forb diversity (wildflowers) and leaf litter. Of 69 woodland bird species recorded over a three-year period, 48 species (70%) occurred in planted sites, 59 species (86%) occurred in remnant woodland, and 34 species (49%) occurred in adjacent paddock sites. The greater diversity of birds in planted sites relative to paddock sites was mostly due to understorey birds. The proportion of mist-netted birds recaptured was similar in both planted (15%) and remnant woodland (16%) sites, suggesting that individual birds were staying in planted sites. The proportion of woodland birds showing breeding activity (as measured by the presence of a brood patch) was slightly lower in planted sites (24% of all woodland species) than in remnant woodland (29%). Birds such as the superb fairy-wren, red-browed finch and southern whiteface were more likely to occur in planted sites, suggesting that plantings provide unique, transitional-stage habitat within agricultural landscapes. Restoring native forbs, as part of a broader strategy of woodland management, will help to reverse the decline of ground-foraging insectivorous woodland birds in agricultural landscapes.


We thank Holbrook Landcare for their support of our research, freely providing access to their farm plantings, established with assistance from the Australian Government Natural Heritage Trust. Holbrook Landcare also generously shared their GIS data and provided staff to assist with site selection. The Earthwatch Institute (scienceprogram@earthwatch.org) provided strong support through the provision of volunteers and an operating budget. Funding was provided by CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship and by the NSW Environmental Trust. In addition, this project has benefited from internal support from CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems’ Internal Venture Capital Fund. Tony Arthur, Julian Reid, Suzanne Prober and Yvonne Buckley provided helpful input during the writing and analysis. We also thank Gary Luck and the anonymous referees who provided valuable comments. Finally, we thank all of the volunteers and CSIRO staff (too many to individually mention) for the many hours of field work they have contributed to this research.


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Appendix 1.  Number of surveys in which each bird species was recorded (inside the transect)
There were 179 surveys across all 30 sites (12 planted, 12 paddock and 6 remnant woodland). In total, 110 species were recorded, 73 species in remnant woodland sites, 76 species in planted sites and 68 species in paddock sites. Woodland birds are identified by shading (69 species). Bird groups: C = small canopy-foraging species (24 species), G = woodland-dependent ground-foraging birds (25 species), I = woodland-dependent ground-foraging insectivorous birds (20 species, superb fairy-wren excluded from modelling analysis), U = understorey species (14 species), O = open-country species (28 species, exotic species excluded) and E = exotic species (3 species). P = species recorded only in planted sites (14 species)
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Appendix 1a. (continued)
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Appendix 2.  Correlation matrix
Spearman rank correlations between area, isolation and habitat variables for planted sites (n = 12). Isolation is distance to nearest patch of woodland >10 ha (km). *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01
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