The landscape within the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been and continues to be impacted by human modifications. Understanding if such anthropogenic disturbances influence organisms that are dependent upon estuarine wetlands remains unclear. We developed an index of marsh bird community integrity (IMBCI) to evaluate marsh bird communities and wetland condition. During the 2002 and 2003 summers, we detected 30 bird species at 219 point count locations distributed among 96 wetlands. IMBCI scores for each wetland were used to determine whether wetland habitat characteristics and urban/suburban development, agriculture, and forest at three different spatial scales (watershed, 1000-m buffer, and 500-m buffer) influenced marsh bird community integrity. We found no relationship between IMBCI scores and wetland habitat characteristics, implying that marsh bird community integrity is not related to any single plant community. Nonparametric changepoint analysis indicated that marsh bird community integrity was significantly reduced when the amount of urban/suburban development within 500 m and 1000 m of the marsh exceeded 14% and 25%, respectively. There was no effect of urban/suburban development on IMBCI scores at the watershed scale. The results of our study demonstrate that marsh bird community integrity shows a threshold response to urban/suburban development at local scales. IMBCI scores, combined with the identification of a land-use threshold, can be easy to interpret and may help communicate complex ecological data to natural resource managers and conservation planners.
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Vol. 24 • No. 4