Global meta-analysis of tree decline impacts on fauna

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2021 Oct;96(5):1744-1768. doi: 10.1111/brv.12725. Epub 2021 May 5.


Significant portions of the world's forests have been impacted by severe and large-scale tree declines characterised by gradual but widespread loss of vigour and subsequent death of either single or several tree species. Tree deaths represent a threat for fauna that are dependent on forest habitats for their survival. Although tree declines have received considerable scientific attention, surprisingly, little is known about their impacts on fauna. In total, we calculated 631 effect sizes across 59 studies that quantified the impact of tree declines on animal abundance. Data representing 186 bird species indicated an overall increase in bird abundance in response to tree declines (meta-analysis mean ± estimation g = 0.172 ± 0.053 [CI 0.069 to 0.275], P = 0.001); however, there was substantial variability in responses (significant heterogeneity P < 0.001) with a strong influence of diet as well as nesting guild on bird responses. Granivores (especially ground-foraging species, e.g. Passerellidae species), bark-foraging insectivores (e.g. woodpeckers), as well as ground- and cavity-nesting species apparently benefitted from tree declines, while nectarivorous birds [and, although not significant, aerially foraging insectivores (e.g. flycatchers) and leaf-gleaning insectivores (canopy-feeding)] were less common in the presence of tree declines. Data representing 33 mammal species indicate a tendency for detrimental effects of tree declines on mammals that use trees as refuges, while aerial foragers (i.e. bats) may benefit from opening up the canopy. Overall the average effect for mammals was neutral (meta-analysis mean estimation g = -0.150 ± 0.145 [-0.433 to 0.134], P = 0.302). Data representing 20 reptile species showed an insufficient range of responses to determine any diet or foraging effect on their responses. Data for 28 arthropod taxa should be considered with caution, as we could not adequately separate taxa according to their specialisations and reliance on key habitat. The data broadly suggest a detrimental effect of tree declines (meta-analysis mean estimation g = -0.171 ± 0.072 [-0.311 to -0.031], P = 0.017) with ground-foraging arthropods (e.g. detritivores and predators such as spiders and centipedes) more likely to be detrimentally impacted by tree declines. The range of responses to tree declines signifies substantially altered animal communities. In many instances, altered ecosystem function due to loss of key animal services will represent a significant threat to forest health.

Keywords: conservation; fauna; habitat change; meta-analysis; tree decline.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests
  • Mammals
  • Trees*