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Does the Matrix Matter?

Testing the Influence of Matrix Type on Bird Responses to Forest Fragmentation

Co Authors:

John C. Withey
Biological Sciences
The Evergreen State College

Christina M. Kennedy
Development by Design Program
The Nature Conservancy


In this case study, students apply principles of landscape ecology, experimental design, and data interpretation to examine alternative explanations for how birds respond to forest fragmentation and landscape matrix. Using an interrupted format, the case introduces key terms of landscape ecology and then asks students to brainstorm ways to test for responses to land cover and land use in the matrix (in this context, the matrix is defined as lands surrounding remnant forest patches). Students also interpret select results from a recent study of neotropical birds in Jamaica (published in Ecological Monographs) and identify conservation implications. As written the case can be used in ecology courses with a unit on landscape ecology or in upper-division conservation or landscape ecology courses.

  • Identify potential response variables and independent variables to test hypotheses that explain how species' responses to fragmentation vary by matrix type and species' traits.
  • Critique the design of a study in landscape ecology by identifying hypotheses that a specific field study can and cannot test.
  • Evaluate the results of original research in landscape ecology by interpreting statistical findings in figures and tables.
  • Identify conservation implications and offer suggestions for future research related to a study on how matrix type can mediate the responses of birds to forest fragmentation.
Keywords: Landscape ecology; conservation biology; community ecology; ornithology; habitat fragmentation; landscape matrix; ordination; biodiversity; birds; neotropics; Caribbean; Jamaica
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted, Role-Play
Language: English
Subject Headings: Ecology   Environmental Science   Natural Resource Management   Wildlife Management   Biology (General)   Zoology  
Date Posted: 7/18/2012
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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