University of Alberta

Shawna Pelech

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2003 - present - Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta
1999 - M.Sc., Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
1994 - B.Sc., Department of Zoology, University of Alberta

Thesis title
Population ecology and dynamics of three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers in old-growth and post-fire conifer forests.

Project Summary
Old-growth and post-fire conifer forests are expected to become increasingly rare as forestry in Canada’s boreal forest intensifies.  American three-toed (Picoides dorsalis) and black-backed (P. arcticus) woodpeckers are strongly associated with these habitats and, as such, are widely-cited as the bird species most vulnerable to future development.

Both species show distinctive abundance patterns where birds occur in low numbers in old-growth forests, but show dramatic irruptions following fire. This pattern is so strong, particularly for black-backed woodpeckers, that source-sink dynamics have been suggested – i.e. populations are maintained by short-term ‘booms’ of productivity in recent burns (sources) with old-growth stands acting as a secondary refuge or sink habitat (i.e. with declining populations) when burns are infrequent.

 If real, these source-sink dynamics are an ecologically interesting example of how species have adapted to dynamic and unpredictable natural disturbance regimes.  However, they also make recommendations on the amount and frequency of old-growth and post-fire habitat necessary to maintain woodpecker populations much more complicated.  Currently, the data necessary to test this hypothesis (i.e. habitat-specific estimates of productivity, survival etc.) and provide accurate management recommendations are extremely limited for these species.   

The purpose of my research is test this source-sink hypothesis for three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers and estimate the spatial and temporal requirements of these species for recent burns and old-growth forest by:

  1. comparing demographic measures  (e.g. nest density, reproduction, and survival) and habitat selection of these species in recently burned and old-growth conifer dominated forests in west-central Alberta.
  2. building computer simulation models of woodpecker populations under varying ecological and forest management scenarios.
Contact information
Shawna Pelech, PhD Student
Office: Z-1106
Phone: (780) 492-1299
Fax: (780) 492-9234
Last Modified:2014-05-29