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In a protected forest, why did the birds disappear?

Cara J

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The William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest is a rare piece of land in New Jersey. Set aside by Dutch settlers in 1701, it is an uncut tract of old growth oak and hickory forest, owned and preserved by Rutgers University with a pledge to keep it untouched. It seemed like it should be a pristine piece of nature in central New Jersey, so researchers were puzzled when they discovered that nearly half the ground nesting and migratory birds documented when Rutgers received the land in the 1950s were gone. “When the forest was set aside, one of the big priorities was to not change anything in it,” said Jeffrey Brown, a PhD candidate in Rutgers’s department of ecology and evolution. “The idea was, we have a unique forest. We don’t want to put in a lot of paths and management practices.” Yet over the decades, bird species began to disappear. Species including the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus), which were common in the 1960s, are no longer present, researchers found, while others that were less abundant, such as the common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)and hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus), are now regular sights. The reason, [...]

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