Aim Few studies have attempted to assess the overall impact of fragmentation at the landscape scale. We quantify the impacts of fragmentation on plant diversity by assessing patterns of community composition in relation to a range of fragmentation measures.
Location The investigation was undertaken in two regions of New Zealand – a relatively unfragmented area of lowland rain forest in south Westland and a highly fragmented montane forest on the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps.
Methods We calculated an index of community similarity (Bray–Curtis) between forest plots we regarded as potentially affected by fragmentation and control forest plots located deep inside continuous forest areas. Using a multiple nonlinear regression technique that incorporates spatial autocorrelation effects, we analysed plant community composition in relation to measures of fragmentation at the patch and landscape levels. From the resulting regression equation, we predicted community composition for every forest pixel on land-cover maps of the study areas and used these maps to calculate a landscape-level estimate of compositional change, which we term ‘BioFrag’. BioFrag has a value of one if fragmentation has no detectable effect on communities within a landscape, and tends towards zero if fragmentation has a strong effect.
Results We detected a weak, but significant, impact of fragmentation metrics operating at both the patch and landscape levels. Observed values of BioFrag ranged from 0.68 to 0.90, suggesting that patterns of fragmentation have medium to weak impacts on forest plant communities in New Zealand. BioFrag values varied in meaningful ways among landscapes and between the ground-cover and tree and shrub communities.
Main conclusions BioFrag advances methods that describe spatial patterns of forest cover by incorporating the exact spatial patterns of observed species responses to fragmentation operating at multiple spatial scales. BioFrag can be applied to any landscape and ecological community across the globe and represents a significant step towards developing a biologically relevant, landscape-scale index of habitat fragmentation.