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Evidence for bottom-up effects in the boreal forest: do passerine birds respond to large-scale experimental fertilization?

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Canadian Journal of Zoology





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Boreal plant communities are strongly nutrient limited, and the animals of the boreal forest may therefore experience bottom-up nutrient limitation. We conducted a 5-year experimental study of the impact of aerial nitrogen fertilization on birds of the boreal forest near Kluane Lake, southwestern Yukon, to test for such bottom-up effects. Specifically, we tested if avian abundance and species richness increased after fertilization. Variable circular-plot point counts were made to estimate bird numbers and species richness each summer from 1988 to 1992. Fertilization had no effect on abundance for the first two summers, but total abundances of the seven commonest passerine bird species increased by an average of 46% over the final 3 years. Fertilization had no effect on bird species richness. Population densities and species richness were both low at Kluane compared with patterns seen in temperate forest. Yellow-rumped warblers (Dendroica coronata), dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemlis),

and Swainson's thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) dominated the passerine community at Kluane. There was only moderate spatial and temporal variation in songbird numbers on control plots over the 5-year study period.