Split Forests: More Snakes, Fewer Birds

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., May 10 (UPI) — A University of Illinois researcher says he has found fragmented forests might result in more snakes but fewer birds.

Professor Patrick Weatherhead and his team said rat snakes — the top predator to nesting birds in eastern North America — account for a high percentage of cases of nest predation.


“Our hypothesis was that because snakes spend so much more time on the edges of the forest, that’s where bird nests should be most vulnerable.”

That hypothesis, he admitted, was wrong.

The scientists say the snakes go into the forest to feed and then return to the edges to regulate their body temperature, breed and shed their skin. And that finding, they said, explains why forest fragmentation usually results in increased nest predation for forest birds.

“So, if your priority is to conserve the birds, you’ll want to preserve unfragmented forest habitat,” Weatherhead said. “It’s not just that you’ve lost habitat, but the smaller chunks you’re left with aren’t as good for a variety of wildlife.” He added. “The smaller fragmented areas attract birds, but they don’t do very well there. They’ve been called ecological traps.”

The research that included Gerardo Carfagno, Jinelle Sperry, Jeffrey Brawn and Scott Robinson appeared in the journal Ecological Applications.

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Categorized | Birds, Other
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