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Avian Ecosystem Engineers

Avian Ecosystem Engineers

Birds That Excavate Cavities

(p.298) Chapter Ten Avian Ecosystem Engineers
Why Birds Matter
Chris FloydKathy Martin
University of Chicago Press

Woodpeckers are prominent examples of ecosystem engineers because they excavate cavities in woody plant tissue, transforming habitat in ways that create shelter for other cavity-dwelling organisms. While the potential keystone role of woodpeckers in cavity-nesting bird communities is well documented, less is known about the importance of their feeding activity. Many woodpecker species drill holes in wood and consume numerous saproxylic insects; and some create sap wells that provide a rich food source for other sap-feeding organisms. Through their cavity-excavating and feeding activity, woodpeckers likely contribute significantly to decomposition cycles, food webs, and biodiversity in forest ecosystems. As with most birds, however, the ecological impacts of woodpeckers have rarely been quantified in terms of the ecosystem services they provide. We discuss the ecosystem services provided by woodpeckers and point out knowledge gaps and research needs that must be addressed before full valuation of these services can be carried out.

Keywords:   beetle regulation, biodiversity, deadwood, ecosystem services, engineers, heartwood fungus, keystone species, saproxylic, secondary cavity nesters, woodpeckers

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