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Ecology. 2008 Aug;89(8):2302-14.

Distinguishing stressors acting on land bird communities in an urbanizing environment.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Urbanization has profound influences on ecological communities, but our understanding of causal mechanisms is limited by a lack of attention to its component stressors. Published research suggests that at landscape scales, habitat loss and fragmentation are the major drivers of community change, whereas at local scales, human activity and vegetation management are the primary stressors. Little research has focused on whether urbanization stressors may supplant natural factors as dominant forces structuring communities. We used model selection to determine the relative importance of urban development, human activity, local and landscape vegetation, topography, and geographical location in explaining land bird species richness, abundance, and dominance. We analyzed the entire community and groups of species based on ecological characteristics, using data collected in remnant forests along a gradient of urban development in the Lake Tahoe basin, California and Nevada, USA. Urbanization stressors were consistently among the principal forces structuring the land bird community. Strikingly, disturbance from human activity was the most important factor for richness in many cases, surpassing even habitat loss from development. Landscape-scale factors were consistently more important than local-scale factors for abundance. In demonstrating considerable changes in land bird community structure, our results suggest that ecosystem function in urban areas may be severely compromised. Such changes compel local- and landscape-scale management, focused research, and long-term monitoring to retain biodiversity in urban areas to the extent possible.

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