Road traffic and nearby grassland bird patterns in a suburbanizing landscape.
An extensive road system with rapidly increasing traffic produces diverse ecological effects that cover a large land area. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of roads with different traffic volumes on surrounding avian distributions, and its importance relative to other variables. Grassland bird data (5 years) for 84 open patches in an outer suburban/rural landscape near Boston were analyzed relative to: distance from roads with 3000-8000 to >30,000 vehicles/day; open-habitat patch size; area of quality microhabitat within a patch; adjacent land use; and distance to other open patches. Grassland bird presence and regular breeding correlated significantly with both distance from road and habitat patch size. Distance to nearest other open patch, irrespective of size, was not significant. Similarly, except for one species, adjacent land use, in this case built area, was not significant. A light traffic volume of 3000-8000 vehicles/day (local collector street here) had no significant effect on grassland bird distribution. For moderate traffic of 8000-15,000 (through street), there was no effect on bird presence although regular breeding was reduced for 400 m from a road. For heavier traffic of 15,000-30,000 (two-lane highway), both bird presence and breeding were decreased for 700 m. For a heavy traffic volume of > or =30,000 vehicles/day (multilane highway), bird presence and breeding were reduced for 1200 m from a road. The results suggest that avian studies and long-term surveys near busy roads may be strongly affected by traffic volume or changes in volume. We conclude that road ecology, especially the effects extending outward >100 m from roads with traffic, is a sine qua non for effective land-use and transportation policy.