Many Nearctic-Neotropic migrant songbirds are experiencing long-term population declines in North America. These declines have been associated with habitat fragmentation on both the breeding and wintering grounds. However, landscape-level responses to habitat fragmentation by migratory songbirds during the winter period are not as thoroughly understood. In addition, research linking the landscape level to responses other than species richness or abundance is relatively rare and nearly nonexistent during winter. To accomplish this goal, I conducted point counts in forested habitats affected by fragmentation (i.e., orange-grove development, residential development) and natural heterogeneity (i.e., low-intensity hurricane damage, high-intensity hurricane damage, and riparian openings) in central Belize to survey total abundance, individual abundance, and species richness of migratory songbirds. Both richness and total abundance were highest in riparian habitat, followed by residential openings. In addition, 12 species responded to habitat differences, with most species more abundant at either residential sites (e.g., Hooded Warbler) or riparian (river) openings (e.g., Baltimore Oriole). Only one species, the Orchard Oriole, showed significant differences between survey years; it was not detected during the 2013 season. Information from this study will be valuable to elucidate differences among species and habitats for migrants during winter to help in overall conservation of songbirds. Specifically, future work will also explore foraging behavior of migrants could help conservation biologists quantify overall habitat quality as it affects population declines of migratory songbirds.
Project Report: Influences of Habitat Fragmentation and Hurricane Damage on Wintering Songbirds in Belize
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