Impacts of reveg and weed control on urban-sensitive birds
- Birds with varying sensitivities to urban areas interact with habitat restoration differently
- Reveg provides the greatest benefit for urban-sensitive species, and weed control provides neutral or in some cases negative outcomes
- Weed control should be implemented in concert with replanting of native vegetation to provide understory structure
Urbanisation is a driver of bird declines in many cities. Land managers often manage green spaces as wildlife refugia. We examined the value of some of these refugia and found that not all forms of vegetation restoration serve the needs of the bird species we would like to retain in our cities. Our analysis suggests that there needs to be careful thought about which bird species are the targets of our conservation efforts prior to implementing them.
Native bird species are in decline in many parts of our landscapes. That decline is even visible in our own back gardens. Urban development, through intensification and expansion, poses a serious threat to wildlife living in green spaces scattered around cities. Protecting and restoring green spaces is important, as cities often overlay highly productive areas that are hotspots for biodiversity. Retaining our native bird species is important in itself, and it’s also one way to connect people to nature, and to promote a conservation ethic among society.
Habitat restoration is an activity often undertaken by local councils, non-government organisations and environmental consultancies. A common goal often cited in these efforts is to ‘increase biodiversity’. This goal is vague at best, as clearly some species can be viewed as more valuable conservation targets than others. Increasing populations of common birds like noisy miners and magpies, probably isn’t synonymous with increasing small song birds like fairy wrens and silvereyes. It is important to identify how individual bird species and groups of birds are interacting with habitat restoration actions to ensure these efforts are promoting the species which we want to inhabit our urban parks.
Habitat restoration is expensive to implement and such effort is expected to benefit urban bird diversity. However, birds known to be sensitive to urbanisation may not be interacting with restoration in the ways we anticipate. For example, controlling weedy plant species, such as lantana, and revegetating with native species are two common restoration actions but how do they benefit different bird species? We wanted to know if these restoration actions are benefiting birds that find living in cities difficult; or if they simply benefit those species that have adapted well to urban environments (species that already call cities their home).
To answer this we surveyed birds in restoration sites in Brisbane. These sites are owned by local councils and maintained by community members and the main form of restoration they have experienced are revegetation and weed control. We then applied a hierarchical community model to estimate the response of different bird groups to these management actions. The three groups we examined were classed as: urban exploitative, adaptable and sensitive bird species. This allowed us to create probability curves of individuals and species group responses to urban restoration. Providing probabilities of ‘success’ for individual species and species groups expands the information available to land managers within their decision-making space.
We found that birds most reliant on nature in cities do not seem to benefit in patches that have been controlled for weeds, while birds which exploit the urban environment do benefit. These shifts in diversity might relate to the possibility that shrubby habitat, whether they are native plants or exotic weeds, are needed by bird species that are sensitive to urban landscapes. Or it could be an effect of territorial species such as noisy miners infiltrating and displacing birds in these areas. This could have serious implications for urban bird diversity, which may have flow on implications to the way in which cities experience and relate to nature.
Revegetation, on the other hand, seems to benefit all groups of species, even though some individual species may suffer declines in abundance.
Habitat restoration is a common conservation practice in cities; and we put a lot of time, money and effort into making it happen (especially in community managed spaces). To achieve a greater conservation benefit from these areas, especially for birds that rely on these greenspaces, a change in the way we implement these actions is needed. To increase bird diversity within cities, we need to disentangle the effect of different types of habitat restoration and make sure we are managing these areas with urban-sensitive species in mind.
More info: Carla Archibald firstname.lastname@example.org
Archibald CL, M Mc Kinney, K Mustin, DF Shanahan & HP Possingham (2017). Assessing the impact of revegetation and weed control on urban sensitive bird species. Ecology and Evolution 00: 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2960