Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



South Dakota De- partment of Game Fish and Parks, Custer State Par


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Habitat disturbance events are critical to ecological systems in which some bird species have become specialized. The vegetation community, reduced competition, ability to avoid predators, nest-site characteristics, and forage opportunities within a disturbed ecosystem are all aspects that make it desirable for selection by particular species (Svärdson 1949, Cody 1981, Martin 1998). Specifically, avian species rely on the forest conditions created by fire, insects, and disease (Brawn et al. 2001, Hunter et al. 2001, Devictor et al. 2008). In the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) of South Dakota,two major types of natural disturbances include wildfires and mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae; MPB) infestations. Dead trees (snags) created by these disturbances attract a suite of insects and wildlife species. Bark beetles (Family: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) and wood borer beetles (Families: Buprestidae and Cerambycidae) are of particular importance to black-backed woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus; BBWO) because they feed almost exclusively on the larvae of these insects (Beal 1911, Murphy and Lehnhausen 1998, Hutto 2006, Bonnot et al. 2008, Bonnot et al. 2009). Black-backed woodpeckers are of key interest to resource management agencies due to their habitat specialization needs and the management activities like wildfire salvage logging and pre-thinning that occur in these disturbance areas (Hutto 1995, 2006). These management activities potentially reduce nest site and food availability for BBWOs and, as a result, they were recently petitioned for protection under the Endangered Species Act (Hanson et al. 2012). Following a fire event or insect infestation, the relative probability of using trees affected by the disturbance increases over surrounding healthy trees (Rota 2013). As a result, we were interested in understanding the food that is available to the woodpeckers following these forest disturbances.