International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 553–564 | Cite as

Thermal conditions within tree cavities in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests: potential implications for cavity users

  • Kerri T. Vierling
  • Teresa J. Lorenz
  • Patrick Cunningham
  • Kelsi Potterf
Original Paper


Tree cavities provide critical roosting and breeding sites for multiple species, and thermal environments in these cavities are important to understand. Our objectives were to (1) describe thermal characteristics in cavities between June 3 and August 9, 2014, and (2) investigate the environmental factors that influence cavity temperatures. We placed iButtons in 84 different cavities in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests in central Washington, and took hourly measurements for at least 8 days in each cavity. Temperatures above 40 °C are generally lethal to developing avian embryos, and ~ 18% of the cavities had internal temperatures of ≥ 40 °C for at least 1 h of each day. We modeled daily maximum cavity temperature, the amplitude of daily cavity temperatures, and the difference between the mean internal cavity and mean ambient temperatures as a function of several environmental variables. These variables included canopy cover, tree diameter at cavity height, cavity volume, entrance area, the hardness of the cavity body, the hardness of the cavity sill (which is the wood below the cavity entrance which forms the barrier between the cavity and the external environment), and sill width. Ambient temperature had the largest effect size for maximum cavity temperature and amplitude. Larger trees with harder sills may provide more thermally stable cavity environments, and decayed sills were positively associated with maximum cavity temperatures. Summer temperatures are projected to increase in this region, and additional research is needed to determine how the thermal environments of cavities will influence species occupancy, breeding, and survival.


Tree cavity Microclimate Ponderosa pine Bats White-headed woodpecker Black-backed woodpecker Lewis’s woodpecker 



We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions helped to greatly improve this paper. Additionally, we would like to thank the Michael Gratson Fellowship for Undergraduate Research (awarded to KP). We also would like to thank Joan St. Hilaire from the US Forest Service and Ross Huffman from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for logistical support.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© ISB 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Fish and Wildlife SciencesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  2. 2.Pacific Northwest Research StationOlympiaUSA
  3. 3.Pacific Northwest Research StationUS Forest ServiceCorvallisUSA
  4. 4.Center for Natural Lands ManagementOlympiaUSA

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