Project Details


In the face of accelerating rates of species extinction due to land transformations and climate change, lands that support significant biodiversity are increasingly being set aside as open space protected areas. The restrictions placed on these protected lands will depend upon its uses, related conservation goals, and socio-economic context; nevertheless most have as a goal the preservation of native wildlife. The worldwide importance of forests in supporting native wildlife have made them frequent targets of protected area designation. In New Jersey, there is a long tradition of setting aside forested lands as protected, with substantial acceleration in this process occurring in the face of massive urban transformation of the landscape over the past three decades. This proposal seeks to advance a fundamental question about the conservation value of these protected forests in New Jersey: does setting aside forest in a protected status ensure the persistence of associated wildlife?The lands located outside of a protected area are often called the 'matrix', and there is substantial evidence that this matrix influences the ecological value of protected area networks worldwide. This influence is realized in multiple ways, with two mechanisms being understudied but highly relevant to New Jersey's protected forests. First, the size of the protected forest matters in terms of the influence of the matrix. Smaller forests are more heavily influenced by the matrix than are larger ones. Smaller protected forests have much more of their total area 'in contact' with neighboring lands than do larger forests, which naturally increases the influence of these lands on the species that use the small forest via edge effects and biological subsidies. Smaller forests are also often too small to support enough individuals of a bird (or other larger-bodied) species so that this population is self-sustaining. This limitation is lessened, or absent, for larger protected forests. Second, the more the adjacent matrix land use differs from that of the protected forest, the stronger the influence of the matrix on forest species composition. Many species that utilize protected forests will find habitat provided by the matrix suitable for some of their life history needs (e.g., foraging, nesting, roosting). For example, several forest-dependent bird species will utilize for foraging or nesting residential neighborhoods where lots are maintained by owners to include shrubby vegetation and several large shade trees. On the other hand, these same bird species will not utilize agricultural fields or land with commercial development. In the former case the protected forest performs much better in terms of sustaining forest-dependent bird species than in the latter cases.Given that New Jersey's protected forests are predominately small (<200ha) and are surrounded by matrix lands with highly variable land uses, these factors should play a large role in determining how well this network of protected forests preserves native bird diversity. I will evaluate how the suite of bird species changes as protected forest size increases, while also documenting the influence of different matrix land uses on bird species composition. I expect these two factors will interact so that, for example, Increases in protected forest size may not decrease the influence of the matrix if those lands are structurally very different from the forest. My results will provide much needed insight into whether, in terms of bird conservation, there exists a forest patch size that is too small, and too highly influenced by the matrix, to be worth setting aside in protected status. Such information can be used by various agencies to inform their acquisition decisions in the future.
Effective start/end date8/22/167/31/19


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA))


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