Changes over time in tree cavity availability across urban habitats

David Hohl*, Teodora Stoycheva, R. Julia Kilgour, Elsa C. Anderson, Jalene M. LaMontagne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In urban ecosystems, tree cavities provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, and their occurrence is influenced by tree health, management, and cavity excavators. Changes over time in vegetative structure, human use patterns, and built environment affect the formation and persistence of tree cavities, and these changes may differ in various urban habitats. Trees with some decay are often associated with tree cavities, however, parks and residential habitats which are highly managed often lack highly-decayed trees, and large trees which are dead and damaged are likely to be removed and replaced with saplings. We surveyed changes over seven years (in 2013 and 2020) in the abundance of both excavated woodpecker cavities and decay cavities, in three urban habitats (forest, park, and residential) in the Chicago region, IL, USA. We observed greater stability of cavity abundance in managed park and residential habitats over time. Low numbers of highly-decayed trees in park and residential habitats were associated with reduced excavated cavity presence compared to forests. As expected, in both 2013 and 2020, the probability of cavity presence for both excavated and decay cavities was increased with greater tree size and higher levels of tree decay, though the patterns of this association varied between habitat types and years. The continued replacement and maintenance of existing trees means that managed park and residential habitats were more stable than unmanaged forest remnants, which are vulnerable to large changes in tree characteristics which could foster unpredictable booms or busts in cavity supply. A stable inventory of tree-cavities depends on preserving large trees, and decay of urban trees benefits habitat quality for cavity-nesters. Pruning of branches or removal of dead trees curtails the life-cycle of tree cavities in decayed branches, so that more highly managed habitats contain fewer cavities than the number of trees could potentially support. Cavity abundance could be improved in stable habitats through reduced intervention where safe, allowing cavity development to occur in situ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127926
JournalUrban Forestry and Urban Greening
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Habitat change
  • Habitat management
  • Tree cavities
  • Tree hollows
  • Urban ecology
  • Urban forestry
  • Urban habitat
  • Wildlife habitat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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