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Habitat Use by Waterbirds in Relation to Pond Size, Water Depth, and Isolation: Lessons from a Restoration in Southern Spain

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Abstract

Wetland restoration is increasingly important to reverse habitat degradation, recover ecosystem services, and maintain biodiversity. To aid project design, more information is required on the influence of wetland size, depth of water, and isolation on the waterbird communities that become established. During a restoration project in Doñana, one of the Europe's most important wetland complexes, an experimental network of 96 temporary ponds with standard shape but variable size, water depth, and isolation was created. We surveyed the waterbird community in spring from 2006 to 2008 and related species abundance and richness to abiotic pond characteristics. We also performed analyses pooling species by foraging guilds or body size. Waterbird abundance and species richness were highest in 2007, the wettest year when the ponds had longer hydroperiods. Larger ponds had consistently higher abundance and species richness for the entire community and for different guilds and body sizes. Moreover, the density of birds per hectare was higher in large ponds than in the smaller ones. Pond isolation and excavated depth did not affect overall abundance and richness, although opposing effects of depth were observed on some size classes, and ducks and large birds preferred isolated ponds. Some bird groups preferred ponds at a particular location. This is the first waterbird study to address the importance of pond size, depth, and isolation independently of confounding variables such as pond shape. It illustrates the varied responses from different bird groups and demonstrates the importance of varying depth, location, and isolation to enhance community abundance and diversity.

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