Processes derived from global change such as land-use changes, climate warming or modifications in the perturbation regime may have opposite effects on forest extent and structure with still unknown consequences on forest biodiversity at large spatial scales. In the present study, we aimed at determining forest dynamics associated with global change processes (forest spread, maturation and fire) that have driven the variation in forest bird distributions in Mediterranean forest ecosystems in recent years. The study was located in Catalonia (NE Spain) and used changes in richness of specialist and generalist forest bird species in the last 20 years of the 20th century as indicators of forest biodiversity change. Forest bird distribution changes showed strong spatial patterns and appeared to be related to population processes occurring beyond sampling units (10 km × 10 km squares). Forest maturation appeared as the most important driver of such changes because most of the studied species have a non-Mediterranean origin and are associated with more mature forests. To a lower degree, forest spread also contributed to forest bird distribution changes whereas the impact of forest fires was not associated to a decrease in the richness of either group of forest species. Given the relatively coarse scale at which our study was conducted, caution should be taken when extrapolating our results to the possible future impacts of climate change on fire regime and forest bird distribution. Our results indicate that large-scale forest maturation and spread due mainly to land abandonment in Catalonia has overridden the potentially negative effects of fires on forest bird distributions and are currently driving changes in forest biodiversity patterns across the region.
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