Wesołowski T. 2011. “Lifespan” of woodpecker-made holes in a primeval temperate forest: a thirty year study. Forest Ecology and Management 262: 1846-1852.
Woodpeckers, able to excavate holes in trees, can provide resources critical for non-excavator hole users. Supply of woodpecker-made holes in forests depends on excavation rates by the birds and holes’ persistence times. I use 30 years of data from a primeval forest (strictly protected reserve, Białowieża National Park, E Poland) to determine how long woodpecker-made holes persist, and whether their persistence varies across forest types, tree species and conditions, and woodpecker species. I followed the fate of 719 breeding holes, excavated by eight woodpecker species, for up to 27 years, from 1979 to 2010. Almost 80% of hole losses were caused by collapse of either the tree or the section supporting the hole. Holes were retained for (median) 6-7 years in riverine and oak-hornbeam forest but 10 years in coniferous forest. These differences can be explained by almost completely non-overlapping sets of tree species used in these different habitats. Lifespan of holes varied by tree species, ranging from four (Picea abies) to >22 years (Pinus sylvestris, almost 100% dead). The long lifespan of holes in the dead Pinus was exceptional, as otherwise, persistence was much lower for holes excavated in dead trees or limbs (5 years) than for those in living substrates (9 years). Tree species with higher frequency of holes in dead wood showed lower persistence times of holes . Lifespans of holes excavated by individual woodpecker species varied widely and was strongly dependent on frequency with which the species excavated in dead wood. Holes of Dendrocopos minor and Dendrocopos leucotos (only in dead wood) persisted for four years, while holes of Dendrocopos major (able to excavate in living sapwood of some trees) lasted for nine, and those of Dryocopus martius for 18 years. Retention of dead Pinus sylvestris, decaying Quercus robur in stands and addition/retention of aspens (Populus tremula, Populus tremuloides) in them would provide conditions to increase the availability of relatively persistent woodpecker holes in forests of the Northern hemisphere.