Habitat edges are well-studied components of fragmented landscapes, yet factors mediating edge effects remain unclear. We report how different types of edges surrounding patches may affect spatial distributions of Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a declining, area-sensitive songbird that breeds in grasslands. We expected Bobolinks to be less abundant near edges, and we investigated a set of alternative hypotheses for explaining that spatial pattern: (1) passive displacement, in which individuals do not avoid edges but use edges as boundaries for territories; (2) habitat gradients, in which individuals respond to habitat structure gradients near edges; (3) territory size, in which size of territories increases near edges; and (4) active avoidance, in which individuals actively avoid edges by positioning territory boundaries away from edges. To examine those hypotheses, we surveyed Bobolinks in grassland habitats near 34 edges of three different edge types (agriculture, road, and woodland) in northern Iowa, 1999-2000. Bobolink density was lower near woodland edges than near other edge types, and density increased as a function of distance from edge for all edge types. There was no evidence for a habitat gradient close to edges, but there was some evidence for habitat structure differing among edge types. Territory size increased near roads, decreased near woodlands, but did not change near agricultural edges. Territory positioning was consistent with active avoidance near woodland edges, and to a lesser extent road edges, but positioning was only consistent with passive displacement near agriculture edges. We conclude that land use surrounding patches can have variable effects on territorial dynamics and habitat use of this area-sensitive species. Linking edge avoidance with fitness is needed to understand the demographic consequences of those responses for species in fragmented landscapes.
Additional publication details
Spatial responses of bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) near different types of edges in Northern Iowa