Change in deciduous woody vegetation, implications of increased willow (Salix spp.) growth for bird species diversity, and willow species composition in and around Yellowstone National Park's Northern range
Deciduous woody vegetation (DWV) in Yellowstone's northern range is a rare, but important habitat type. Including willow, alder, aspen, and cottonwood, DWV was limited in height and areal extent since the early 1900s. Since the mid-1990s; however, DWV has increased in height and areal extent in some locations. Previous studies regarding DWV change have focused on quantifying change in vegetation growth in areas of limited extent and none have quantified increased DWV growth at the scale of the landscape. Furthermore, no studies have evaluated the implications for increased growth of DWV for wildlife in the region or how DWV species themselves may influence rates of growth. In this thesis I evaluate change in DWV within wetland and riparian areas using aerial photographs from 1991 and 2006. I also investigate how an increase in willow, the dominant component of DWV in the region, has likely influenced bird diversity. Finally, since willow species vary with respect to genetic limitations on growth and reproduction that in turn may influence observed patterns of growth; I examine willow species composition across the northern range. Results of the air photo interpretation revealed a 170% increase in DWV. Most plots that increased did so by recruitment rather than densification; however, DWV was difficult to detect below 100 cm indicating that the number of plots increasing by recruitment may have been overestimated. Bird community variables were examined in three willow growth conditions: height suppressed, recently released, and previously tall (tall prior to observed increase in growth). I found that willow structure generally increased in complexity from structurally simple height suppressed willows to structurally complex previously tall willows and that this allowed for greater bird richness, abundance, diversity, and the abundance of several willow dependent bird species. I also found that willow species composition was similar and diverse between the released and previously tall condition, but that the suppressed condition was dominated by a singe species. I conclude that increased DWV has allowed for greater bird diversity in the northern range and that increased willow growth in the suppressed condition may be influenced by species composition there.