Poplar plantations should not be used as surrogate habitat for native riparian forests with the aim of preserving bird species diversity; Native riparian forests should be preserved or restored as far as possible; Bird communities occurring in poplar plantations can still accommodate rich communities of forest bird species, providing that suitable management is applied at local and landscape levels.
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In Mediterranean areas, riparian zones are particularly important for maintaining biodiversity. Nevertheless, the native vegetation in these zones has been modified or lost at an alarming rate during the last decades. The main objective of this study was to investigate the influence of poplar plantations on bird diversity in riparian zones, in order to estimate the ecological implications of a substantial expansion of poplar plantations. Breeding birds were sampled by the point-count method in twenty-four poplar plantations of I-214 clone, according to a factorial design combining stand age and understory management. Furthermore, the three native riparian forests remaining in the study area were also surveyed. Explanatory variables included (1) dendrometric, (2) understory and (3) landscape variables within six different radii of circular buffers. The species richness and abundance index were higher in riparian forests than in poplar plantations. Landscape variables (percentage of poplar plantations in the surrounding landscape) strongly influenced bird diversity in poplar plantations. Furthermore, at the local scale, understory cover was also a key factor in shaping bird assemblages. This suggests that poplar plantations should not be used as surrogates for native forests. Nevertheless, poplar plantations can still accommodate rich communities of forest bird species, providing that suitable management is applied at local and landscape levels.