Low-density residential development (i.e., exurban development) is often embedded within a matrix of protected areas and natural amenities, raising concern about its ecological consequences. Forest-dependent species are particularly susceptible to human settlement even at low housing densities typical of exurban areas. However, few studies have examined the response of forest birds to this increasingly common form of land conversion. The aim of this study was to assess whether, how, and at what scale forest birds respond to changes in habitat due to exurban growth. We evaluated changes in habitat composition (amount) and configuration (arrangement) for forest and forest-edge species around North America Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) stops between 1986 and 2009. We used Threshold Indicator Taxa Analysis to detect change points in species occurrence at two spatial extents (400-m and 1-km radius buffer). Our results show that exurban development reduced forest cover and increased habitat fragmentation around BBS stops. Forest birds responded nonlinearly to most measures of habitat loss and fragmentation at both the local and landscape extents. However, the strength and even direction of the response changed with the extent for several of the metrics. The majority of forest birds’ responses could be predicted by their habitat preferences indicating that management practices in exurban areas might target the maintenance of forested habitats, for example through easements or more focused management for birds within existing or new protected areas.

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Copyright © 2013, Public Library of Science. This article first appeared in PLoS One 8:6 (2013), 1-11.

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