Microclimate may influence use of early successional habitat by birds. We assessed the relationships between avian habitat use and microclimate (temperature, light intensity, and relative humidity) in experimentally created canopy gaps in a bottomland hardwood forest on the Savannah River Site, SC. Gaps were 2- to 3-year-old group-selection timber harvest openings of three sizes (0.13, 0.26, 0.50 ha). Our study was conducted from spring through fall, encompassing four bird-use periods (spring migration, breeding, post-breeding, and fall migration), in 2002 and 2003. We used mist netting and simultaneously recorded microclimate variables to determine the influence of microclimate on bird habitat use. Microclimate was strongly affected by net location within canopy gaps in both years. Temperature generally was higher on the west side of gaps, light intensity was greater in gap centers, and relative humidity was higher on the east side of gaps. However, we found few relationships between bird captures and the microclimate variables. Bird captures were inversely correlated with temperature during the breeding and post-breeding periods in 2002 and positively correlated with temperature during spring 2003. Captures were high where humidity was high during post-breeding 2002, and captures were low where humidity was high during spring 2003. We conclude that variations in the local microclimate had minor influence on avian habitat use within gaps. Instead, habitat selection in relatively mild regions like the southeastern US is based primarily on vegetation structure, while other factors, including microclimate, are less important.
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