Patterns of human disturbance and response by small mammals and birds in chaparral near urban development
We report on the extent of disturbance (including habitat alteration and road and trail proliferation) in chaparral near urban development and analyze the effects of disturbance on small mammal and resident bird species. Disturbance patterns were evaluated in a 6700 ha study area in southern California: effects on mammals and birds were investigated by analyzing relationships between vegetation structure and animal species richness and abundance. Disturbance was prevalent throughout the study area and included extensive human-altered habitat (from past human activities such as vegetation clearing, human-caused fires, refuse dumping, and vegetation trampling) and 157 km of roads and trails. A nonsignificant trend was found between human-altered habitat and proximity to development, but human-altered habitat was significantly associated with roadway proximity. Trails were also more frequent near urban development and roads. Small mammals responded strongly to disturbance-related vegetation changes, while birds showed little or no response. Mammals endemic to chaparral vegetation were less diverse and abundant in disturbed sites, whereas disturbance-associated species increased in abundance. Close proximity of urban development to natural areas resulted in alteration of natural habitat and proliferation of roads and trails. Variation in life history traits between birds and mammals may affect response to disturbance and influence persistence if disturbance continues. Conservation efforts must recognize the potential for habitat damage and associated declines in native animal species caused by disturbance near urbanization and implement strategies to reduce these threats.
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