Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Songbird Responses to Land Preservation within Southern New England Cluster Subdivisions

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Songbird Responses to Land Preservation within Southern New England Cluster Subdivisions

Article excerpt


Cluster subdivisions were designed to protect open space in response to rapid rates of conventional development. One of the proclaimed benefits of preserving open space within cluster subdivisions is the provision of habitat for native wildlife, but this has rarely been evaluated. This study examined songbird response to the amount of land protected within cluster subdivisions in Rhode Island (USA). We selected 11 sites along a gradient based on the relative amount of land protected within a site (% land under a conservation easement; %CE). We used nonparametric multivariate statistics to compare songbird communities between protected and developed areas within subdivisions and regression analyses to relate bird abundance and community metrics to %CE. Songbird communities differed significantly between protected and developed areas within cluster subdivisions. Songbird richness and diversity both peaked between 73-74 %CE, while densities of forest interior and human intolerant species increased with increasing %CE. Ovenbird, Veery, and Pine Warbler most typified high %CE sites and were found most often in protected areas far from development edges. This study demonstrates that cluster subdivisions need to preserve approximately 70-75% of the original undeveloped parcel of land in order to maximize songbird diversity. A higher percentage should be preserved in large contiguous blocks to further benefit forest interior species. This suggests that proposed regulations that require Rhode Island subdivisions to protect at least 50% of a parcel's buildable land may not be adequate to enhance bird diversity or preserve species that depend on large contiguous blocks of forest interior habitat.

Keywords: songbirds, cluster subdivisions, New England, habitat value, diversity, conservation easements

1. Introduction

A defining characteristic of the changing United States landscape is the rapid and ongoing loss of natural and agricultural habitats to residential and urban development. The area of developed lands increased by approximately 14.2 million ha (48%) between 1982 and 2003 (White, Morzillo, & Alig, 2009) and as of 2007 comprised 6% of the landmass of the conterminous United States (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2009). Although estimates vary, similar rates of development are expected to continue. For example, Stein et al. (2005) estimated that approximately 18 million ha of additional land will be developed by 2030, while White et al. (2009) projected that 22 million ha of land will be developed between 2003 and 2030. Much of this development has occurred (and will occur) in exurban areas, or areas beyond urban centers and their suburbs, through the conversion of natural and agricultural habitats into residential housing (Brown, Johnson, Loveland, & Theobald, 2005; Radeloff, Hammer, & Stewart, 2005; Theobald, 2005). This exorbitant growth has many negative ecological implications, including the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats (Ritters et al., 2002; Radeloffet al., 2005; Drummond & Loveland, 2010), reduced air and water quality (Tu, Xia, Clark, & Grei, 2007; Duh, Shandas, Chang, & George, 2008; Stone, 2008), declines and extinctions of native and rare species (Czech, Krausman, & Devers, 2000; Marzluff, 2001; McKinney, 2006), introduction and expansion of non-native and invasive species (Riley et al., 2005; McKinney, 2006), and disruption of natural ecological processes (e.g., fire regimes) (Syphard et al., 2007).

Much of the loss of exurban habitats is due to the proliferation and sprawl of conventional or tract subdivisions resulting from suburban zoning and subdivision ordinances. These kinds of residential developments were typically comprised of large housing lots with little or no preservation of natural habitats as open space (Arendt, 1994; Flinker, 2003). The concept of cluster subdivisions was developed in response to growing concern over the rapid loss of natural habitats from conventional development practices. …

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