Background: Forest management affects the habitat conditions for many forest-dwelling species. Among them, the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is a rare forest grouse inhabiting old, mature forests. We compared the structure of forest habitat among 9 active and 9 abandoned leks in the Augustów Forest (North-Eastern Poland), within a radius of 1 km of the leks, defined as the Key Areas for the capercaillie in lowland temperate forest. Habitat measurements were conducted on 1779 circular plots. Assessments made on all plots related to 13 habitat variables measured or noted in the field, including stand structure, canopy closure, stand developmental stage, percentage of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), soil fertility and soil moisture, the share of undergrowth, the cover of shrubs, the cover of bilberry (Vaccinium sp.), and the presence of certain habitat elements important to the capercaillie. Results: To compare the still-occupied and the abandoned KAs for the capercaillie, a logistic regression model was developed. The variables best explaining differences between these two categories were: the occurrence of undergrowth layers, canopy closure in the second canopy layer, and stand age. According to the model, with the increase of the shrub-layer cover as well as the density of trees, the probability of the presence of the capercaillie decreased. The capercaillie in the area of the Augustów Forest occupy mainly dry and poor, middle-aged, pine-dominated forests, with a moderate extent of stand canopy closure and only weakly-developed layers of undergrowth. Conclusions: The filling-in of mature stands with sub-canopy trees and shrubs (the process which is stimulated by climate change and site eutrophication) causes structural changes, which are unfavourable to the capercaillie. This might explain why in the course of the recent decades the capercaillie has abandoned the oldest stands, distinguished by the presence of bigger shares of undergrowth. The capercaillie has shifted to younger stands, which reveal a lesser extent of canopy closure and a more limited development of understorey vegetation.
Drozdowski, S., Zawadzka, D., Zawadzki, G., Studnicki, M., & Brzeziecki, B. (2021). Mature stand developmental stage has ceased to constitute the most suitable habitat for the capercaillie in the Augustów Forest, Poland. Forest Ecosystems, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40663-021-00327-7