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Oecologia. 2012 Dec;170(4):999-1007. doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2367-z. Epub 2012 May 29.

Winter predation by insectivorous birds and consequences for arthropods and plants in summer.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, USA.


Top-down effects of predators can have important consequences for ecosystems. Insectivorous birds frequently have strong predation effects on herbivores and other arthropods, as well as indirect effects on herbivores' host plants. Diet studies have shown that birds in temperate ecosystems consume arthropods in winter as well as in summer, but experimental studies of bird predation effects have not attempted to quantitatively separate winter predation impacts from those in summer. To understand if winter foraging by insectivorous birds has consequences for arthropods or plants, we performed a meta-analysis of published bird exclusion studies in temperate forest and shrubland habitats. We categorized 85 studies from 41 publications by whether birds were excluded year-round or only in summer, and analyzed arthropod and plant response variables. We also performed a manipulative field experiment in which we used a factorial design to exclude birds from Quercus velutina Lam. saplings in winter and summer, and censused arthropods and herbivore damage in the following growing season. In the meta-analysis, birds had stronger negative effects on herbivores in studies that included winter exclusion, and this effect was not due to study duration. However, this greater predation effect did not translate to a greater impact on plant damage or growth. In the field experiment, winter exclusion did not influence herbivore abundance or their impacts on plants. We have shown that winter feeding by temperate insectivorous birds can have important consequences for insect herbivore populations, but the strength of these effects may vary considerably among ecosystems. A full understanding of the ecological roles of insectivorous birds will require explicit consideration of their foraging in the non-growing season, and we make recommendations for how future studies can address this.

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