Although loss of wetlands in southern Appalachia has been especially severe, no avian studies have been conducted in the vestiges of these ecosystems. Our research assessed avian use of southern Appalachian wetlands in the breeding seasons of 1999 through 2001. Site analyses included 18 habitat variables, including total wetland area, area of open water, beaver or livestock evidence, edge type (abrupt or gradual), and percent cover of nine vegetation types. We analyzed avian species richness and abundance at the community level and in guilds based on migratory status and breeding habitat preference. Measures of vegetation and habitat—particularly those resulting from beaver activities—and gradual edges were significantly correlated with guild- and community-level variables. Evidence of beaver (i.e., forest gaps where trees had been felled, ponds where drainages had been dammed; hereafter referred to simply as “beaver evidence”) was significantly correlated with greater community-level species richness and abundance. Both beaver evidence and gradual edge were positively associated with greater species richness and abundance of Neotropical migratory birds (NTMBs) overall, as well as with the late-successional NTMB guild. Presence of gradual edge alone also was significantly correlated with high abundance of birds in the early-successional NTMB guild. Beaver and gradual edge may have contributed to higher-quality breeding habitats with relatively greater overall productivity and structural complexity in some wetlands.
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Vol. 118 • No. 3