Factors affecting the permeability of transportation and riparian corridors to the movements of songbirds in an urban landscape.

Published online
06 Jan 2010
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Tremblay, M. A. & St. Clair, C. C.
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Publication language
Alberta & Canada


Linear features associated with transportation and riparian corridors are known to inhibit the mobility of birds and other wildlife, yet the factors contributing to their barrier effects are poorly understood. The diversity of roads in urban landscapes provides an opportunity for elucidating the relative importance of factors such as noise, traffic volume, gap width and adjacent vegetation on animal movement. Using an avian mobbing call as a lure, we tested the willingness of forest songbirds to cross four types of linear features in the urban landscape of Calgary, Alberta, Canada: (1) roads of varying widths and traffic volumes, (2) conventional railways and light transit lines, (3) transportation bridges across riparian corridors, and (4) rivers. Using mixed effects logistic regression, we found that the size of the gap in vegetation was the most important determinant of movement (P<0.001). As the gap in vegetation exceeded 30 m, the likelihood of movement decreased dramatically and by 45 m, birds were only half as likely to move across gaps as they were to move an equivalent distance in continuous tree cover. Traffic volume also had a significant dampening effect on movement (odds ratio=0.952 per 1000 vehicle per day increase; P<0.001) and generally explained more variation in the data than noise levels. Railroads proved to be the most permeable of the features we tested, probably owing to their relatively narrow width, which never exceeded 30 m. Surprisingly, rivers were less permeable than the anthropogenic linear features we tested, with a significant barrier effect evident even at widths <50 m. The birds in our study showed a marked preference for flying over, rather than under, transportation bridges, particularly when adjacent vegetation was available. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that linear features, both anthropogenic and natural, can significantly impede the movements of forest songbirds and that managing adjacent vegetation is a potentially effective way to mitigate these barrier effects in cities and other fragmented landscapes.

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