Yards with plants that mimic native vegetation offer birds "mini-refuges" and help to offset losses of biodiversity in cities, according to results of a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
"Native" yards support birds better than those with traditional grass lawns and non-native plantings.
Researchers conducted the study through the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, one of 26 such sites around the globe in ecosystems from coral reefs to deserts, from forests to grasslands.
"To a desert bird, what's green is not necessarily good," says Doug Levey, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology. "Arizona birds don't view lush urban landscapes as desert oases. The foraging behavior of birds in greener yards suggests that there's less food for them there than in yards with more natural vegetation."
The research, led by scientists Susannah Lerman and Paige Warren of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Hilary Gan and Eyal Shochat of Arizona State University, looked at residential landscape types and native bird communities in Phoenix, Ariz.
It's among the first to use quantitative measures and a systematic approach--including 24-hour video monitoring--in yards to assess and compare foraging behavior of common backyard birds.
The scientists found that desert-like, or xeric, yards had a more even bird community and superior habitat compared with moist, or mesic, grass lawns.
"We already know that bird communities differ, and that there are more desert birds found in a desert-type yard," says Lerman.
"With this study, we're starting to look at how different yards function--whether birds behave differently by yard type. We're doing that using behavioral indicators, especially foraging, as a way of assessing birds' perceptions of habitat quality between differing yard designs."
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation