Disturbance Zones of Influence on Boreal Songbird Communities in Northeastern Alberta

Amy Darling
Carol Stefan
Corey De La Mare
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Canada’s boreal forest is important habitat for many North American birds, which play a vital role in the health of forests, and provide ecosystem services. Expanding human development in northern Alberta raises concerns that fragmentation and loss of habitat could be leading to declines in forest wildlife. Objectives of this boreal songbird analysis were to examine habitat and disturbance associations of boreal songbirds, and determine what habitat and disturbance variables had the greatest influence on mature forest songbird relative  abundance and species richness, with the ultimate goal of developing an empirical habitat model to predict the influence of development on mature forest songbirds in northeastern Alberta.

Though this research confirms that local habitat variables are important, considering only local scale variables would fail to account for important landscape level variation in songbird numbers. Examination of zones of influence should move beyond local, fine-scale examinations of distance from disturbance and consider the composition of surrounding natural habitats and cumulative effects of surrounding disturbance, which can influence songbird habitat choice in a hierarchical manner. Models combining local and landscape level variables (habitat composition and structure as well as disturbance types) are recommended to accurately predict development impacts on boreal songbirds.