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Cumulative Effects of Barriers on the Movements of Forest Birds

Marc Bélisle, Université de Sherbrooke
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, University of Alberta

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Abstract

Although there is a consensus of opinion that habitat fragmentation has deleterious effects on animal populations, primarily by inhibiting dispersal among remaining patches, there have been few explicit demonstrations of the ways by which degraded habitats actually constrain individual movement. Two impediments are primarily responsible for this paucity: it is difficult to separate the effects of habitat fragmentation (configuration) from habitat loss (composition), and conventional measures of fragmented habitats are assumed to be, but probably are not, isotropic. We addressed these limitations by standardizing differences in forest cover in a clearly anisotropic configuration of habitat fragmentation by conducting a homing experiment with three species of forest birds in the Bow Valley of Banff National Park, Canada. Birds were translocated (1.2–3.5  km) either parallel or perpendicular to four/five parallel barriers that are assumed to impede the cross-valley travel of forest-dependent animals. Taken together, individuals exhibited longer return times when they were translocated across these barriers, but differences among species suggest a more complex interpretation. A long-distance migrant (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata) behaved as predicted, but a short-distance migrant (Golden-crowned Kinglet, Regulus satrapa) was indifferent to barrier configuration. A resident (Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis) exhibited longer return times when it was translocated parallel to the barriers. Our results suggest that an anisotropic arrangement of small, open areas in fragmented landscapes can have a cumulative barrier effect on the movement of forest animals, but that both modelers and managers will have to acknowledge potentially counterintuitive differences among species to predict the effect that these may have on individual movement and, ultimately, dispersal.

Key words

Banff National Park, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, barriers, connectivity, corridor, forest cover, fragmentation, habitat loss, movement of forest birds, roads
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087