Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 727-739

First online:

Partitioning the multi-scale effects of human activity on the occurrence of riparian forest birds

  • Robert J. FletcherJr.Affiliated withAvian Science Center, Division of Biological Sciences, University of MontanaDepartment of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida Email author 
  • , Richard L. HuttoAffiliated withAvian Science Center, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana

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Conservationists, managers, and land planners are faced with the difficult task of balancing many issues regarding humans impacts on natural systems. Many of these potential impacts arise from local-scale and landscape-scale changes, but such changes often covary, which makes it difficult to isolate and compare independent effects arising from humans. We partition multi-scale impacts on riparian forest bird distribution in 105 patches along approximately 500 km of the Madison and Missouri Rivers, Montana, USA. To do so, we coupled environmental information from local (within-patch), patch, and landscape scales reflecting potential human impacts from grazing, invasive plant species, habitat loss and fragmentation, and human development with the distribution of 28 terrestrial breeding bird species in 2004 and 2005. Variation partitioning of the influence of different spatial scales suggested that local-scale vegetation gradients explained more unique variation in bird distribution than did information from patch and landscape scales. Partitioning potential human impacts revealed, however, that riparian habitat loss and fragmentation at the patch and landscape scales explained more unique variation than did local disturbances or landscape-scale development (i.e., building density in the surrounding landscape). When distribution was correlated with human disturbance, local-scale disturbance had more consistent impacts than other scales, with species showing consistent negative correlations with grazing but positive correlations with invasives. We conclude that while local vegetation structure best explains bird distribution, managers concerned with ongoing human influences in this system need to focus more on mitigating the effects of large-scale disturbances than on more local land use issues.


Exotic species Grazing Habitat fragmentation Patch width Riparian birds Species distribution Urbanization Variation partitioning