Habitat fragmentation and reproductive success: a structural equation modelling approach
- There is great interest on the effects of habitat fragmentation, whereby habitat is lost and the spatial configuration of remaining habitat patches is altered, on individual breeding performance. However, we still lack consensus of how this important process affects reproductive success, and whether its effects are mainly due to reduced fecundity or nestling survival.
- The main reason for this may be the way that habitat fragmentation has been previously modelled. Studies have treated habitat loss and altered spatial configuration as two independent processes instead of as one hierarchical and interdependent process, and therefore have not been able to consider the relative direct and indirect effects of habitat loss and altered spatial configuration.
- We investigated how habitat (i.e. old forest) fragmentation, caused by intense forest harvesting at the territory and landscape scales, is associated with the number of fledged offspring of an area-sensitive passerine, the Eurasian treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). We used structural equation modelling (SEM) to examine the complex hierarchical associations between habitat loss and altered spatial configuration on the number of fledged offspring, by controlling for individual condition and weather conditions during incubation.
- Against generally held expectations, treecreeper reproductive success did not show a significant association with habitat fragmentation measured at the territory scale. Instead, our analyses suggested that an increasing amount of habitat at the landscape scale caused a significant increase in nest predation rates, leading to reduced reproductive success. This effect operated directly on nest predation rates, instead of acting indirectly through altered spatial configuration.
- Because habitat amount and configuration are inherently strongly collinear, particularly when multiple scales are considered, our study demonstrates the usefulness of a SEM approach for hierarchical partitioning of habitat amount vs. habitat configuration in landscape ecology that may have bearing on biological conclusions.