A changing landscape may have dire implications for birds

PORTLAND - In their desire to get close to nature by building lakeside cottages and homes in the woods, Americans may very well be hastening the decline of many native bird species that breed in forest habitats.

The development boom in the nation's rural areas is putting increasing pressure on forest ecosystems, and the resulting decline in native vegetation and the increase in human activity - ranging from all-terrain vehicle use to predatory pets roaming the woods - is putting more and more native birds at risk, according to research presented Wednesday, Aug. 4, at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland, Ore.

The research, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Forest Service, details broad patterns of birds' response to housing growth and land cover change in the lower 48 United States.

The bottom line, according to UW-Madison researchers Anna Pidgeon and Chris Lepczyk, is that as rural forested landscapes are developed and parsed by roads and openings for new houses, many native bird species are at risk as deep forest breeding habitat is perforated.

Using data from the Breeding Bird Survey, a broad-based effort to monitor bird populations across North America, the researchers looked at changes in the abundance of species. Comparing that data to U.S. census data and the National Landcover Dataset, a satellite survey of land cover in the U.S., the Wisconsin and Forest Service team was able to sketch a broad picture of human pressures on native forest bird species.

"We have found in the Midwestern United States that as land cover becomes more human dominated, the number of species declines," says Lepczyk, who led a team that examined the roles of land cover and housing density on 137 species of birds, native and exotic. Of those, 37 species were affected negatively by humans, while 13 species had positive relationships and 23 species exhibited a m

Contact: Chris Lepczyk
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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