Rural expansion affects birds differently in different locations
A new study in the journal Diversity by researchers at the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at Paul Smith College finds that bird communities in two rapidly developing rural landscapes have different responses to increased “rural sprawl” react.
The researchers found that bird communities living in the eastern forests of New York’s Adirondack Park are more sensitive to residential areas than western birds, which are found in the more diverse landscapes of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) around Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
The researchers say the more inconsistent landscape in the western shrub steppe of GYE could support bird communities that are less sensitive to the effects of fragmentation. Birds that live in the largely unbroken, intact forests of Adirondack Park are more severely affected by disturbances.
So-called “exurban” bars, which are on the outskirts of cities and suburbs, are among the regions with the highest population growth in the USA in the last three decades. This is partly due to second homes and new technology making it possible to work from remote locations.
The authors say that in both landscapes, in protecting and preserving the birds, focusing on the initial location of the houses may be more effective in preserving the birds than trying to influence human behavior after construction is complete.
Broader habitat disruption is more damaging
The study found that birds reacted more negatively to the wider habitat disruption from development than they did to certain human-related disorders.
For example, these eastern species fared better overall in undeveloped control areas: black-throated blue warbler, magnolia warbler, red-breasted nuthatch, winter wren, white-throated sparrow and yellow-bellied sap-sucker. But none of these species showed a negative response to any particular disturbance such as increased noise or pets around the homes.
Birds’ responses to habitat features and possible disturbances were very species-specific, making one-size-fits-all recommendations difficult, but also providing opportunities to help individual species that may need protection.
In the west, for example, Savannah Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks have been negatively affected by pets, but not by other disturbances such as people moving outside or turning lights on at night.
Study lead author Michale Glennon of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith College said, “Some of our results were surprising – we expected birds to be more negative to potential disturbances like pets and noise. Conflicting results suggest that some forms of the disorder may have indirect benefits – for example, some nest predators, such as squirrels, may be deterred from dogs – and those benefits may outweigh the cost. “
Rural urban sprawl: Local governments play a big role
The authors say that local governments and planning bodies are able to control the location and configuration of developments through local land use ordinances, and that existing ordinances may require little adjustment to achieve relatively large wildlife benefits. Similarly, homeowners associations may have the opportunity to influence decisions at the subdivision or neighborhood level that affect the availability and structure of larger-scale habitats, and in turn affect bird communities.
“Our results underscore the important role local planning boards can play in controlling the location and configuration of development on private land to protect critical wildlife habitats,” said co-author Heidi Kretser of WCS.
Conservationists increasingly rely on private land to save wildlife and wild places. Under recent environmental regulations, President Biden committed to 30×30, an ambitious plan that has already been supported by 50 countries and aimed to protect at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030 in order to curb global loss of biodiversity and use natural systems to combat climate change. The management of private land for conservation purposes will play a crucial role in achieving this goal.
Thank you to the Wildlife Conservation Society for providing this news.
Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, tips on dressing and identification, and more in your inbox.
Sign up for free