Characterizing avian survival along a rural-to-urban land use gradient

Authors

  • Brian S. Evans,

    Corresponding author
    1. Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599 USA
    2. Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, P.O. Box 37012-MRC 5503, Washington, D.C. 20013 USA
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  • Thomas B. Ryder,

    1. Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, P.O. Box 37012-MRC 5503, Washington, D.C. 20013 USA
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  • Robert Reitsma,

    1. Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, P.O. Box 37012-MRC 5503, Washington, D.C. 20013 USA
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  • Allen H. Hurlbert,

    1. Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599 USA
    2. Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599 USA
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  • Peter P. Marra

    1. Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, P.O. Box 37012-MRC 5503, Washington, D.C. 20013 USA
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  • Corresponding Editor: J. R. Sauer.

Abstract

Many avian species persist in human-dominated landscapes; however, little is known about the demographic consequences of urbanization in these populations. Given that urban habitats introduce novel benefits (e.g., anthropogenic resources) and pressures (e.g., mortality risks), conflicting mechanisms have been hypothesized to drive the dynamics of urban bird populations. Top-down processes such as predation predict reduced survivorship in suburban and urban habitats, whereas bottom-up processes, such as increased resource availability, predict peak survival in suburban habitats. In this study, we use mark–recapture data of seven focal species encountered between 2000 and 2012 to test hypotheses about the processes that regulate avian survival along an urbanization gradient in greater Washington, D.C., USA. American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, and Song Sparrow exhibited peak survival at intermediate and upper portions of the rural-to-urban gradient; this pattern supports the hypothesis that bottom-up processes (e.g., resource availability) can drive patterns of avian survival in some species. In contrast, Carolina Chickadee showed no response and Carolina and House Wren showed a slightly negative response to urban land cover. These contrasting results underscore the need for comparative studies documenting the mechanisms that drive demography and how those factors differentially affect urban adapted and urban avoiding species.

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