Permeability of three boreal forest landscape types to bird movements as determined from experimental translocations


  • Jean-François Gobeil,

  • Marc-André Villard

J.-F. Gobeil and M.-A. Villard, Dépt de Biologie, Univ. de Moncton, Moncton NB, Canada E1A 3E9 (


Efficient dispersal is critical to metapopulation persistence in fragmented landscapes. Yet, this phenomenon is poorly understood because it is difficult to study. We used an indirect method, experimental translocation, to investigate the permeability of three landscape types of the boreal mixedwood forest region of Canada to movements of a forest specialist, the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus), and a habitat generalist, the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). We captured a total of 148 males (84 ovenbirds; 64 sparrows), which were then colour banded and displaced ca. 2 km away from their territories in landscapes fragmented either by agriculture, timber harvesting, or natural disturbances. We measured the probability and time of return of individuals to their territories during the 48 h following their translocation. We examined the relative influence of landscape type, territory quality, and age, physical characteristics, and pairing status of individuals on their probability or time of return. For both species, landscape type was the only significant predictor of the probability and time of return of individuals. For the ovenbird, the agricultural landscape was least permeable, followed by the harvested and naturally patchy landscapes. The agricultural and harvested landscapes were equally permeable to white-throated sparrow movements, and the naturally patchy landscape was the least permeable. Permeability to ovenbird movements increased with the proportion of forest in the landscape. Because matrix type and the proportion and configuration of forest differed significantly among the three landscape types, we could not determine their relative influence on landscape permeability to bird movements. However, our results do indicate that even a long-distance migrant such as the ovenbird can move more rapidly and efficiently across the landscape as the proportion of suitable (or permeable) habitat increases.