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Area-sensitivity by forest songbirds: theoretical and practical implications of scale-dependency


  • André Desrochers,

  • Christine Renaud,

  • Wesley M. Hochachka,

  • Mike Cadman

A. Desrochers ( and C. Renaud, Centre d’étude de la forêt, Faculté de foresterie, de géographic & géomatique, Univ. Laval, Québec, QC G1K 7P4, Canada. – W. M. Hochachka, Lab of Ornithology, Cornell Univ., 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA. – M. Cadman, Canadian Wildlife Service, 867 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON L7R 4A6, USA.


Songbird presence is often associated with the area of suitable habitat in the surrounding landscape. However, the size of landscape for which this association is maximized is generally unknown, likely to vary among species, and may affect our ability to incorporate songbirds in landscape management. We measured the occurrence and the persistence of forest songbirds in relation to the amount of habitat measured at several scales: local (100, 200 m radius), neighborhood (400, 800 m), landscape (1.6, 3.2, 6.4 km) and regional (12–24 km), based on data from Ontario's Forest Bird Monitoring Program (1987–2005). Songbird occurrence was obtained from point count sites distributed across southern Ontario and each revisited in multiple years (mean=5.8 yr). Presence of each species at a site was associated with forest habitat area measures that account for differences in preferred forest cover types among species. Area of coniferous, deciduous and mixed forest was derived from Landsat TM imagery. Thirty-two of the 35 species studied were area-sensitive, and area-sensitivity was apparent for 13–25 species at each spatial scale. For 24 species, the strength of area-sensitivity varied with scale, suggesting the importance of local, neighborhood, landscape and regional habitat for 3, 5, 5, and 11 species respectively. As a result, the list of the five most area-sensitive species varied depending on the scale at which habitat was described. We conclude that area-sensitivity can occur at a broader set of scales than generally assumed, and is most pronounced at the regional scale. We suggest that a broad set of scales should be examined before taking conservation decisions based on avian area-sensitivity.