The fragmentation of North American forests by agriculture and other human activities may negatively impact the demographic processes of birds through increases in nest predation and brood parasitism. In fact, the effects of fragmentation on demographic processes are thought to be a major underlying cause of long-term population declines of many bird species. However, much of our understanding of the demographic consequences of fragmentation has come from research conducted in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Thus, results obtained from these studies may not be applicable to western landscapes, where habitats are often naturally heterogeneous due to topographic variation and periodic fire. We utilized data from a large database of nest records (>10,000) collected at sites both east and west of the Rocky Mountains to determine if the effects of fragmentation are consistent across broad geographic regions. We found that forest fragmentation tended to increase the frequency of brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) east of the Rockies but we were unable to detect a significant difference in the West. Within the eastern United States, nest predation rates were consistently higher within fragmented sites relative to unfragmented sites. Yet, in the West, fragmentation resulted in a decrease in nest predation relative to unfragmented sites. This is perhaps accounted for by differential responses of the local predator community to fragmentation. Our results suggest that the effects of fragmentation may not be consistent across broad geographic regions and that the effects of fragmentation may depend on dynamics within local landscapes.
Additional publication details
Effects of forest fragmentation on brood parasitism and nest predation in eastern and western landscapes