Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 1597–1621 | Cite as

The causal response of avian communities to suburban development: a quasi-experimental, longitudinal study

  • John M. MarzluffEmail author
  • Barbara Clucas
  • M. David Oleyar
  • Jack DeLap


Correlations between urbanization and biodiversity are well known, but the causes driving such associations are lacking. We used a long-term, quasi-experimental approach to study the responses of avian communities to suburban and exurban development around Seattle, WA, USA. We measured indices of bird abundance, reproduction, and survival for 12 years at many locations, including 5 forest ‘reserves,’ 10 existing ‘developments,’ and 11 ‘changing’ sites where ongoing development converted forests to single-family residential neighborhoods. In the first few years of clearing, building, and occupation of new neighborhoods by humans avian communities shifted from those typical of second-growth forest to those more characteristic of developments. During this time avian diversity increased and numerical dominance by abundant birds declined. Species that adapted and exploited development reproduced more successfully there than did forest-dependent species that avoided development. Adults of species that thrived in developments attained equal annual survival across reserved to developed landscapes, while species that avoided neighborhoods tended to survive poorly outside of reserves. The humans living in our study areas frequently fed birds and provided nest boxes. These actions were positively correlated with increases in secondary cavity nesting and seed eating birds. Humans also maintained outdoor cats and 11 % of humans both fed birds and let their cats outside. These actions were negatively correlated with the abundance of birds regularly using feeders. We suggest that a key management goal in urban ecosystems is the maintenance of avian diversity because a diverse avifauna engages a diversity of humans.


Urban Birds Diversity Survivorship Reproduction Nesting success Abundance Survey technique Seattle Urbanization gradient domestic cat bird feeder human action 



Tina (Rohila) Blewett, Heather Cornell, Roarke Donnelly, Laura Farwell, Jeff Hepinstall, Cara Ianni, Sonja Kübler, Peter Meffert, Lin Robinson, Stan Rullman, Ben Shryock, Jorge Tomasevic, Thomas Unfried, Kara Whittaker, and John Withey helped collect the data we present. Michael Abs, Marina Alberti, Gordon Bradley, Wilfried Endlicher, Kern Ewing, Ingo Kowarik, Maciej Luniak, Marc Miller, Maresi Nerad, Clare Ryan, Eric Shulenberger, Ute Simon, Gerd Wessolek, and Craig ZumBrunnen broadened our understanding of the urban world. Their collaboration enabled successful proposals that funded our joint research from the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB-9875041, IGERT-0114351, BCS 0120024, and BCS 0508002), the German Research Foundation (RTG Graduiertenkolleg 780), and the University of Washington (Rachel Wood’s Endowed Graduate Program).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Marzluff
    • 1
    Email author
  • Barbara Clucas
    • 1
  • M. David Oleyar
    • 1
  • Jack DeLap
    • 1
  1. 1.University Of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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