Dr. Steven Matthews and Dr. Tonra received a generous SEEDS grant from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center to study interactions between wildlife and trees in light of ongoing oak mesophication. Mesophication refers to the process by which the loss of fire in the landscape shifts oak-hickory dominated forest to beech-maple. As oaks and hickories support enormous abundances of arthropods and food resources in the form of nuts, this can have. In addition to fire, oaks are also dependent on animals to disperse their seeds, and Blue Jays are one of the most effective disperses through their long movements and caching behavior. But if oaks decline, what will this mean for Jays? In turn, if Jays decline, will this have a multiplicative effect on the decline in oak forest? We will be working on precisely these questions by examining long term trends in oak mast (periodic fluctuations in acorn crops), jay population abundance, and designing studies of the impacts oak crops have on overwinter survival and dispersal behavior. We hope our work will go a long way to understanding the impacts of mesophication on wildlife and the feedbacks this can have on this important ecosystem, without altering forest management.
All photos, unless otherwise noted, are © Christopher M. Tonra, all rights reserved