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Keywords:

  • Atlantic forest;
  • biodiversity surrogates;
  • birds;
  • Brazil;
  • climate change;
  • conservation;
  • deforestation;
  • ecological niche modelling;
  • environmental space;
  • species distribution modelling

Abstract

Aim  Habitat loss and climate change are two major drivers of biological diversity. Here we quantify how deforestation has already changed, and how future climate scenarios may change, environmental conditions within the highly disturbed Atlantic forests of Brazil. We also examine how environmental conditions have been altered within the range of selected bird species.

Location  Atlantic forests of south-eastern Brazil.

Methods  The historical distribution of 21 bird species was estimated using Maxent. After superimposing the present-day forest cover, we examined the environmental niches hypothesized to be occupied by these birds pre- and post-deforestation using environmental niche factor analysis (ENFA). ENFA was also used to compare conditions in the entire Atlantic forest ecosystem pre- and post-deforestation. The relative influence of land use and climate change on environmental conditions was examined using analysis of similarity and principal components analysis.

Results  Deforestation in the region has resulted in a decrease in suitable habitat of between 78% and 93% for the Atlantic forest birds included here. Further, Atlantic forest birds today experience generally wetter and less seasonal forest environments than they did historically. Models of future environmental conditions within forest remnants suggest generally warmer conditions and lower annual variation in rainfall due to greater precipitation in the driest quarter of the year. We found that deforestation resulted in a greater divergence of environmental conditions within Atlantic forests than that predicted by climate change.

Main conclusions  The changes in environmental conditions that have occurred with large-scale deforestation suggest that selective regimes may have shifted and, as a consequence, spatial patterns of intra-specific variation in morphology, behaviour and genes have probably been altered. Although the observed shifts in available environmental conditions resulting from deforestation are greater than those predicted by climate change, the latter will result in novel environments that exceed temperatures in any present-day climates and may lead to biotic attrition unless organisms can adapt to these warmer conditions. Conserving intra-specific diversity over the long term will require considering both how changes in the recent past have influenced contemporary populations and the impact of future environmental change.