Pesticide treatments affect mountain pine beetle abundance and woodpecker foraging behavior

Ecol Appl. 2008 Jan;18(1):172-84. doi: 10.1890/07-0015.1.


In British Columbia, Canada, management efforts used to control mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) outbreaks have included treatment of infested trees with an organic arsenic pesticide, monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA). Cumulative pesticide applications over a large geographic area have generated concerns about arsenic loading in the environment and potential toxicity to nontarget wildlife. We investigated woodpecker foraging patterns in infested stands with and without MSMA treatment using a combination of tree debarking indices, point count surveys, and radiotelemetry methods in addition to insect flight traps to measure mountain pine beetle emergence. Debarking indices indicated woodpecker foraging of MSMA-treated trees was significantly lower than nontreated trees in all sampling years. However, approximately 40% of MSMA trees had some evidence of foraging. Focal observations of foraging woodpeckers and point count surveys in MSMA treatment areas further confirmed that several species of woodpeckers regularly used MSMA stands during the breeding season. Radio-tagged Hairy (Picoides villosus) and Three-toed (Picoides dorsalis) Woodpeckers spent on average 13% and 23% (range 0-66%) of their time, respectively, in treated stands, despite the fact that these areas only comprised on average 1-2% of their core home range (1 km2). MSMA strongly reduced the emergence of several bark beetle (Coleoptera, Scolytidae) species including the mountain pine beetle, and there was a highly significant positive relationship between Dendroctonus beetle abundance and Three-toed Woodpecker abundance. This study identifies the potential negative impact that forest management practices using pesticides can have on woodpecker populations that depend on bark beetles and their host trees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Coleoptera / drug effects*
  • Coleoptera / growth & development
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Pesticides / pharmacology*


  • Pesticides