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1 May 2009 Potential Role of Spruce Budworm in Range-Wide Decline of Canada Warbler
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The Canada warbler (Wilsonia canadensis) is one of many common neotropical migrants whose populations are in decline across their range. Influences of habitat loss and degradation on breeding or wintering grounds have been postulated as possible causes, but few empirical data exist to support a specific cause. Based on previous studies linking abundances of Canada warbler and spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana), we hypothesized that the Canada warbler may be influenced by a persistent decline in spruce budworm throughout the bird's breeding range, a hypothesis that has received little attention. This hypothesis makes 5 predictions: 1) budworm outbreaks and warbler detections should be spatially and temporally coincident; 2) the relationship between Canada warbler and spruce budworm outbreaks should be similar to relationships for other warblers known to be spruce budworm associates; 3) the relationship should be stronger than for warblers lacking an association with spruce budworm; 4) because temporal trends of both spruce budworm and Canada warblers have varied throughout Canadian provinces, declines in Canada warblers should be seen only in provinces where spruce budworm also declined; and 5) variation in Canada warbler abundance should reflect variation in supply of preferred habitat for the spruce budworm if habitat rather than budworm abundance is the key. Our analyses supported predictions 1–4, suggesting that Canada warbler may be even more closely associated with spruce budworm than are known associated species, a phenomenon noted in the literature but previously unexplained. Prediction 5 was not supported, because budworm habitat (area of mature and older balsam fir [Abies balsamea] and white spruce [Picea glauca]) remained constant in Ontario while warbler abundance declined. Although the correlative nature of these results precludes inference of a causal relationship between the declines of the Canada warbler and spruce budworm, we postulate that potential links may exist directly, where spruce budworm outbreaks provide elevated levels of insect prey items for breeding Canada warblers, or indirectly through changes in forest structure and composition following outbreaks. These results have implications when considering long-term trends in Canada warbler populations, because it may be impossible to alter population trends for species linked to the timing and magnitude of spruce budworm outbreaks.

Darren J. H. Sleep, Mark C. Drever, and Kandyd J. Szuba "Potential Role of Spruce Budworm in Range-Wide Decline of Canada Warbler," Journal of Wildlife Management 73(4), 546-555, (1 May 2009).
Published: 1 May 2009

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