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Keywords:

  • Arboreal marsupials;
  • Australia;
  • birds;
  • conservation;
  • fragmentation;
  • lizards;
  • nested subset theory;
  • nestedness;
  • New South Wales;
  • RANDNEST

Abstract

Aim  The potential nestedness of assemblages of birds, arboreal marsupials and lizards was examined in a fragmented landscape in south-eastern Australia. We assessed which ecological processes were related to the presence or absence of nestedness, particularly in relation to previous autoecological studies in the same study area.

Location  Data were collected at Buccleuch State Forest, c. 100 km to the west of the Australian Capital Territory in south-eastern Australia.

Methods  Presence/absence matrices were compiled for birds (40 pine sites, 40 continuous forest sites, 43 fragments), arboreal marsupials (41 continuous forest sites, 39 fragments) and lizards (30 sites including all landscape elements) from a range of field surveys conducted since 1995. Nestedness was analysed using a standardized discrepancy measure, and statistical significance was assessed using the RANDNEST null model. For birds, species thought to be extinction-prone were analysed separately to assess if assemblages comprising extinction-prone species were more strongly nested than others. Also, sites with a substantial amount of Eucalyptus radiata were analysed separately to assess whether nestedness was stronger if environmental heterogeneity was minimized.

Results  The assemblages of lizards and arboreal marsupials were not nested, probably because of qualitative differences between species in response to environmental conditions. The assemblages of birds in fragments and pine sites were significantly nested, but nestedness was substantially stronger in fragments. For birds, nestedness appeared to be related to somewhat predictable extinction sequences, although there were many outliers in the analysis. Nestedness increased when extinction-prone species were analysed by themselves. Nestedness decreased when environmental heterogeneity was minimized by including only sites dominated by E. radiata.

Main conclusions  In a given landscape, different vertebrate assemblages can respond in vastly different ways to fragmentation. Nestedness analyses can provide a useful overview of likely conservation issues in fragmented landscapes, for example by highlighting the possible roles of local extinction and immigration. However, nestedness analyses are a community-level tool, and should be complemented by more detailed autoecological studies when applied in a conservation context.