Oak (Quercus spp.) savannas are among the most imperiled ecosystems in the United States. Consequently, associated vegetation and avian communities are also in decline. Furthermore, restoration of savanna communities may be an important strategy for conserving avian species that require early successional habitat, a type underrepresented on regional landscapes. Therefore, we evaluated savanna restoration on twelve sites in the Mid-South USA. Specifically, we examined grass, forb, legume, and woody understory cover, regeneration and sapling density, and breeding bird use of the sites following mechanical overstory thinning and dormant-season fire using a hierarchical linear model. Total grass cover was negatively related to canopy cover (P < 0.01) and total forb cover was negatively related to total basal area (P = 0.04). Oak regeneration density was positively related to canopy cover (P < 0.01), while oak competitor regeneration density was positively related to percent slope (P = 0.01) and sapling density (P = 0.01). Shrub/scrub birds were common within sites undergoing restoration. Only three obligate grassland bird species, eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis) and dickcissel (Spiza americana), were detected on one site. Presence of indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea) was positively related to groundlayer development. Canopy reduction and burns outside the dormant season may both be critical to restoration of savannas and associated avifauna in the region.
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