Concerns about forest fragmentation and its conservation implications have motivated numerous studies that investigate the influence of forest patch area and forest edge on songbird distribution patterns. The generalized effects of forest patch size and forest edge on animal distributions is still debatable because forest patch size and forest edge are often confounded and because of an incomplete synthesis of available data. To fill a portion of this gap, we incorporated all available published data (33 papers) in meta-analyses of forest edge and area effects on site occupancy patterns for 26 Neotropical migrant forest-nesting songbirds in eastern North America. All reported area effects are confounded or potentially confounded by edge effects, and we refer to these as "confounded" studies. The converse, however, is not true and most reported edge effects are independent of patch area. When considering only nonconfounded studies of edge effects, only 1 of 17 species showed significant edge avoidance and 3 had significant affinity for edges. In confounded studies, 12 of 22 species showed significant avoidance of small patches and edges, and 1 had an affinity for small patches and edges. Furthermore, average effect sizes averaged across studies or species tended to be higher for confounded studies than for edge studies. We discuss three possible reasons for differences in results between these two groups of studies. First, studies of edge effects tended to be carried out in landscapes with greater forest cover than studies of confounded effects; among confounded effects studies, as forest cover increased, we observed a nonsignificant trend towards decreasing strength of small patch or edge avoidance effects. Thus, the weaker effects in edge studies may be due to the fact that these studies were conducted in forest-dominated landscapes. Second, we may have detected strong effects only in confounded studies because area effects are much stronger than edge effects on bird occurrence, and area effects drive the results in confounded studies. Third, edge and area effects may interact in such a way that edge effects become more important as forest patch size decreases; thus, both edge and area effects are responsible for results in confounded studies. These three explanations cannot be adequately separated with existing data. Regardless, it is clear that fragmentation of forests into small patches is detrimental to many migrant songbird species.
- Neotropical migrant