By SAMANTHA GRENROCK
GAINESVILLE – When it comes to urban planning, sometimes a bird in hand is not worth two in the bush. Researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have created an online tool to help planners strategically conserve forest fragments and tree canopy that will attract more birds and enhance future biodiversity.
The Building for Birds web tool predicts how the distribution of trees and tree patches in a new development will impact resident and migrating bird habitat. Users can test different arrangements to see how they can optimize habitat for different development scenarios.
“When planners do sustainable development, they usually consider factors such as water, energy or transportation. With this tool, they can also consider biodiversity and show good diligence and stewardship,” said Mark Hostetler, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation who developed the web tool with UF graduate student Jan-Michael Archer.
It’s often not possible to include large swaths of undeveloped land in new developments, so the challenge is knowing how to make the most of the habitat that can be retained, Hostetler said.
“When we talk about wildlife, we usually say bigger habitats are better than smaller ones, and connected habitats are better than fragmented ones,” Hostetler explained. “However, there is a lot of nuance to this, depending on the species. For example, some bird species thrive in fragmented landscapes whereas others do not do so well.”
The Building for Birds web tool lets users enter information about the size of forest patches and conserved tree canopies in built areas that they are considering conserving in a new development. The tool scores each scenario based on how well it conserves various types of bird habitat.
The tool also prints out a list of birds likely to be found in these smaller conserved fragments.
“Creating the tool took about a year and a half of research, and included reviewing the scientific literature on which birds respond to small forested patches and tree canopy cover for breeding, wintering and more,” Hostetler said.
The Building for Birds web tool can be used by developers and city planners nationwide, though Florida developers/planners may find it especially handy.
“As more and more people move into Florida, small patches of bird habitat will become more and more important,” Hostetler said. “Even a tree in a backyard can be utilized by a number of species.”