Fewer Songbirds May Be Result Of Forest Fragmentation Across The American South, New Study Suggests

ATHENS, Ga. -- There's a new predator in the forest, and it has neither feet nor claws. The new beast is the chain saw, which is ripping down tree stands so shopping centers and subdivisions can go up. Now there is evidence that forest fragmentation is doing something else: causing a decline in migratory songbirds in the American South.

In a new study at the Ft. McClellan Army post in northeastern Alabama, researchers have discovered that cutting forests can allow large predators like raccoons and opossums access to ground-nesting songbirds. The loss of eggs and nesting areas appear to result in a decline in some species.

"Some 20 percent of songbirds species are ground-nesters, from ovenbirds to Black-and-White Warblers, and many are in decline," said Amber Keyser, a doctoral student in genetics at the University of Georgia. "We wanted to know if the threat was coming from large or small predators."

Keyser's research on songbirds, just published in the journal Conservation Biology, was done while she was a master's student at Auburn University, in conjunction with Dr. Geoffrey Hill, an avian consultant and a faculty member at Auburn, and Eric Soehren of the Natural Heritage Section of the State of Alabama's Natural Lands Division. The work was funded as part of the Legacy Resource Management Program of the U.S. Department of Defense.

There has been both scientific and anecdotal evidence that some songbird species in the United States are in decline. As large sections of contiguous forest are broken into tracts, birds experience a loss of habitat for nesting and foraging, but the problem is even more insidious. Fragmentation can also create avenues in which predators are virtually funneled to nesting sites. While there have been studies in the Midwest and Northeast to discover the kinds of predators that are wiping out nests, little work has been done in the Southeast.

The current study was designed

Contact: Phil Williams
University of Georgia

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