Woodland birds in patchy landscapes: the evidence base for strategic networks


*Corresponding author. Email: p.dolman@uea.ac.uk


Habitat creation and management within wooded networks is a potentially effective strategy to reduce ecological isolation and the deleterious effects of fragmentation. However, questions remain over the relative advantages of different approaches, e.g. buffering patches vs. increasing connectivity. Potential effects of woodland fragmentation include reduction in regional woodland cover, reduced patch size, edge effects with loss of core habitat, and increased isolation with disruption of dispersal and metapopulation dynamics. We adopt an evidence-based approach to review how each of these affects woodland birds with an emphasis on studies from the UK and use this to identify management priorities for mitigation. There is evidence for both patch area and composition effects: larger woodlands support more woodland bird species, and woods located within sparsely wooded landscapes are less valuable to specialist woodland species. Bird assemblages show a nested pattern with respect to area, and thus species found in small woods also occur in large woods but not vice versa. However, small woods may be preferred by a few edge species, while small woods also have greater variability in bird species composition. Consideration of the metapopulation dynamics of specialist species with poor dispersal shows that creating or buffering large woodlands is more efficient than a greater total area of small fragments. Connectivity appears most useful for widespread generalist species with almost continuous populations. Woodland structure and quality are of overwhelming importance: as well as mature woodland, young growth, scrub and edges are also key components. There is an urgent need to examine the relationship between nest predation and landscape structure within UK woodlands.