The relative importance of landscape properties for woodland birds in agricultural environments

Authors

  • JAMES Q RADFORD,

    1. Landscape Ecology Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood, VIC 3125, Australia
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  • ANDREW F BENNETT

    1. Landscape Ecology Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood, VIC 3125, Australia
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James Q. Radford, Landscape Ecology Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood, VIC 3125, Australia (Fax: + 61 3 54484982; e-mail: jradford@deakin.edu.au).

Summary

  • 1Studies of landscape change are seldom conducted at scales commensurate with the processes they purport to investigate. Landscape change is a landscape-level process, yet most studies focus on patches. Even when landscape context is considered, inference remains at the patch-level. The unit of investigation must be extended beyond individual patches to whole mosaics in order to advance understanding of faunal responses to landscape change.
  • 2In this study, we aggregated data from multiple sites per landscape such that both the response and explanatory variables characterized ‘whole’ landscapes, allowing for landscape-level inference about factors influencing species’ incidence.
  • 3We used hierarchical partitioning and Bayesian variable selection methods to develop species-specific models that examined the influence of four categories of landscape properties – habitat extent, habitat configuration, landscape composition and geographical location – on the incidence of 58 species of woodland-dependent birds in 24 agricultural landscapes (each 100 km2) in south-eastern Australia.
  • 4There was strong evidence for a positive effect of habitat extent for 27 species. Thirty species were related to at least one of the four landscape composition variables, and geographical location was important for 19 species. Habitat configuration was influential for 13 species and where important, the impacts of fragmentation per se were detrimental.
  • 5Variation among species in the influential landscape variables indicates that different species respond to different sets of cues in land mosaics. Thus, although all species were grouped a priori as ‘woodland-dependent’, expectations based on general ecological characteristics may prove unreliable.
  • 6Synthesis and applications. These results underscore the value of moving beyond the fragmentation paradigm focused on the spatial pattern of habitat vs. non-habitat, to a greater appreciation of the composition and heterogeneity of land mosaics. Landscape-level inference will enable improved conservation outcomes by recognizing the influence of landscape properties on biota and devising strategies at this scale to complement patch-based management. We provide strong empirical evidence that biodiversity management in agricultural landscapes must focus on habitat extent. Complementary management of other landscape attributes, such as habitat aggregation and intensity of agricultural land-use, will also enhance the value of agricultural landscapes for woodland birds.

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