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Movement behaviour and distribution of forest songbirds in an expanding urban landscape. Open Access


Other title
linear features
black-capped chickadee
yellow warbler
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Tremblay, Marie Anne
Supervisor and department
Colleen Cassady St. Clair (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Keith Tierney (Biological Sciences)
Erin Bayne (Biological Sciences)
Lenore Fahrig (Biological Sciences, Carleton University
Scott Nielsen (Renewable Resources)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosphy
Degree level
Urbanization is viewed as a major threat to global biodiversity because of its role in the loss and fragmentation of low-lying, productive habitats associated with coastal plains and river valleys. My study examines the effects of urbanization on the movements and distribution of songbirds in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I conducted playback and translocation experiments to assess the permeability of small-scale (e.g. transportation corridors, rivers) and large-scale (e.g. multi-lane expressways, areas of urban development) features of the urban landscape, respectively. I then used these empirical data to parameterize spatially explicit models and determine functional landscape connectivity across the study area. Finally, using point surveys conducted at 183 sites across the urban matrix, I examined the role of land cover type, local vegetation characteristics, landscape-level forest cover, and isolation from natural features on the distribution of songbirds. In 563 playback trials involving the responses of 2241 birds, I found that the size of the gap in vegetation was the most important determinant of movement across linear features; the likelihood of movement sharply decreasing as the gap in vegetation exceeded 30 m. The results of 176 translocation trials provided further evidence of the barrier effect of gaps. Multiple gaps, in particular, constrained the movements of both yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) and black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). The bird surveys revealed that natural forest stands played a critical role in sustaining regional avian diversity in the study area. Moreover, functional distance to the nearest forested natural area or water body often explained more variation in the probability of occurrence of focal species than straight-line distance, suggesting that barriers identified from the permeability experiments may have affected not only the movements of songbirds but their settlement patterns as well. Taken together, my results suggest that preserving a functionally connected network of natural areas is vital to conserving avian biodiversity in cities. My research describes novel methodologies for characterizing the composition and configuration of highly heterogeneous and fragmented landscapes. It also provides a unique examination of the link between the movement behaviour of individual birds and population-level distribution patterns within this context.
License granted by Marie Tremblay ( on 2010-09-24T01:14:16Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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