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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Southern Ontario

Southern Ontario landscape — Photo: Scott Gillingwater “People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world that will not sustain people.” Bryce Nelson 24

Flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds — Photo: Greg Lavaty THE FRAGMENTED FOREST Domestic cat eating sparrow — Photo: Mark Marek Edge habitat — Photo: Dawn Burke Forest fragmentation is a landscape scale process that involves the breaking up of large continuous tracts of forest into smaller remnants of various sizes and shapes. It often results from the conversion of natural habitat into human modified land uses (agriculture, roads, urban areas, and utility corridors). Forest habitat is not only lost with fragmentation but the remaining habitat is reduced in quality and function due to the spatial arrangement, size and shape of remaining habitat patches. Associated increases in nest predation and brood parasitism often result in reduced reproductive success for bird species that historically bred in large, unbroken tracts of forest. Fragmentation has been implicated as a major cause in the decline of some songbirds. The severity of fragmentation effects depends on the surrounding habitat, termed the matrix. Forests surrounded by agriculture or urban development are typically more affected than those surrounded by forest patches of a different age, structure, or species composition. Agriculture and urban land uses often result in a permanent loss of habitat whereas timber harvesting may only temporarily reduce the availability of suitable habitat (i.e., prevalence of mature forest). As well, increased feeding opportunities (crops, bird feeders, garbage, etc.) in agricultural and suburban habitats support unnaturally high densities of predators (racoons, squirrels, chipmunks, crows, Blue Jays, and domestic cats) and Brown-headed cowbirds. Characteristics of remaining forest patches within a fragmented landscape determine their suitability as bird habitat. These characteristics are interrelated and include, the amount of edge, the size and shape of a patch, how well the patches are connected, the amount of forest in the region outside of the forest patch, and the features present in the landscape, known as landscape composition. These factors can individually or cumulatively influence all stages in the life cycle of birds, from settlement and pairing to reproduction and recruitment into the breeding population. As the relative importance of each of these factors can vary by species, biodiversity planning requires consideration of all factors at a large scale. It is now becoming increasingly evident that the future of Ontario’s forest wildlife may depend on not only the amount and size of forests that remain, but on the location, shape, and characteristics of the land use in the surrounding landscape. Edge Edge is the transition zone between two different habitats or land uses. The interaction between two different habitats results in an edge effect. The more habitats differ from each other in structure the greater the intensity of edge effect. For instance, the structure of a forest is very different from an open field. Where these two habitats meet, is called a hard edge. In comparison, the structure of a mature deciduous forest is more similar to a plantation. Edges between these types of habitats are termed soft edges. In forests, edge effects can include abiotic (i.e., non-living) effects like increased light, heat, and wind; and biotic (i.e., living) effects like changes in the abundance of species or how well they survive. The result is an edge habitat that is very different in structure and function from that which is farther into the forest. For birds nesting at forest edges, predation and parasitism rates are often higher as nest predators and cowbirds are attracted to the shrubby, open habitat of the edge for locating nests. The amount and type of food available to breeding birds can be affected in edge habitat, as warmer, drier conditions alter insect communities. Some edge effects may extend 100 to 200 metres (m) into the forest, though habitat beyond 100 m is generally considered forest interior or core habitat. Several species, such as the Song Sparrow, are better adapted to The Fragmented Forest 25

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