Canadian Forest Service Publications

Ecological Sustainability of Birds in Boreal Forests. 1998. Niemi, G.J.; Hanowski, J.; Helle, R.; Howe, R.; Monkkonen, M.; Venier, L.A.; Welsh, D. Conservation Ecology 2: 1 - 28.

Year: 1998

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 28811

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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ES Home > Vol. 2, No. 2 > Art. 17

Copyright ©1998 by The Resilience Alliance*

Niemi, G., J. Hanowski, P. Helle, R. Howe, M. Mönkkönen, L. Venier, and D. Welsh. 1998. Ecological sustainability of birds in boreal forests. Conservation Ecology [online] 2(2): 17. Available from the Internet. URL:

Synthesis, part of Special Feature on Sustainability and Resilience in Boreal Regions Ecological Sustainability of Birds in Boreal Forests

Gerald Niemi1, JoAnn Hanowski1, Pekka Helle2, Robert Howe3, Mikko Mönkkönen4, Lisa Venier5, and Daniel Welsh5

1University of Minnesota; 2Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute; 3University of Wisconsin; 4University of Oulu, Finland; 5Canadian Forest Service

Abstract Introduction Boreal Bird Communities Status of Programs on Sustaining Boreal Bird Populations Discussion Population Variability Ecological Factors Underlying Sustainability: Density Dependence and Independence Population Trends Continent-wide-Scale Disturbances in Boreal Forests Landscape-Scale Disturbances in Boreal Forests Patch- or Stand-Scale Disturbances in Boreal Forests Human Impacts on Boreal Forests Consequences of Not Managing for Sustainability of Bird Populations Knowledge Gaps on Boreal Birds Tools for Management of Sustainable Boreal Bird Populations Conclusions Responses to This Article Acknowledgments Literature Cited


We review characteristics of birds in boreal forests in the context of their ecological sustainability under both natural and anthropogenic disturbances. We identify the underlying ecological factors associated with boreal bird populations and their variability, review the interactions between boreal bird populations and disturbance, and describe some tools on how boreal bird populations may be conserved in the future. The boreal system has historically been an area with extensive disturbance such as fire, insect outbreaks, and wind. In addition, the boreal system is vulnerable to global climate change as well as increasing pressure on forest and water resources. Current knowledge indicates that birds play an important role in boreal forests, and sustaining these populations affords many benefits to the health of boreal forests. Many issues must be approached with caution, including the lack of knowledge on our ability to mimic natural disturbance regimes with management, our lack of understanding on fragmentation due to logging activity, which is different from permanent conversion to other land uses such as agriculture or residential area, and our lack of knowledge on what controls variability in boreal bird populations or the linkage between bird population fluctuations and productivity. The essential role that birds can provide is to clarify important ecological concerns and variables that not only will help to sustain bird populations, but also will contribute to the long-term health of the boreal forest for all species, including humans.