To protect any species, you have to know two things: exactly what habitat it uses, and how much of that habitat it needs to survive. Easier said than done, right? (Just ask any biologist who’s spent years plotting transect points.)

But a new study co-authored by a Conservancy scientist has done just that for the golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered songbird that breeds in Texas and winters in Central American pine-oak forests. Researchers identified the specific types of oak trees that the warblers rely on for food during their winter season and the density at which these trees are needed to ensure viability of future warbler populations.

Their findings indicate that warblers are most commonly found in forests with moderate densities of encino oaks and low densities of roble oaks. In other words, if there are too many roble oaks and not enough encino oaks, then there are few (or no) warblers.

Why does this matter? Because conservationists can now work with forest managers looking to develop timber activity to know just how much tree harvesting—and of which tree types—can be conducted without harm to the warbler populations.

The study’s findings suggest that if harvest is more focused on roble oaks, then habitat for golden-cheeked warblers can be preserved or perhaps even improved by reduction of roble density.

Ultimately, the information should help improve the long-term conservation of the warbler and benefit local communities in Central America who rely on the forest for fuel for cooking and heating as well as income from timber development, says Dave Mehlman, a co-author of the study and migratory bird expert at The Nature Conservancy.

Read the study’s abstract here.

(Image: Golden-cheeked warbler. Source: Flickr user VSsmithUK via a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. Hey, so that’s great for the warbler, but what about all the species that survive on roble oaks????????

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