The relative influence of habitat loss and fragmentation: Do tropical mammals meet the temperate paradigm?

Authors

  • Daniel H. Thornton,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Florida, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, 110 Newins-Zieglar Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0430 USA
    • Present address: Department of Environmental Studies, Southwestern University, 1001 E. University Avenue, SU Box 7381, Georgetown, Texas 78626 USA. E-mail: thorntondh@gmail.com

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  • Lyn C. Branch,

    1. University of Florida, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, 110 Newins-Zieglar Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0430 USA
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  • Melvin E. Sunquist

    1. University of Florida, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, 110 Newins-Zieglar Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0430 USA
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  • Corresponding Editor: T. G. O'Brien.

Abstract

The relative influence of habitat loss vs. habitat fragmentation per se (the breaking apart of habitat) on species distribution and abundance is a topic of debate. Although some theoretical studies predict a strong negative effect of fragmentation, consensus from empirical studies is that habitat fragmentation has weak effects compared with habitat loss and that these effects are as likely to be positive as negative. However, few empirical investigations of this issue have been conducted on tropical or wide-ranging species that may be strongly influenced by changes in patch size and edge that occur with increasing fragmentation. We tested the relative influence of habitat loss and fragmentation by examining occupancy of forest patches by 20 mid- and large-sized Neotropical mammal species in a fragmented landscape of northern Guatemala. We related patch occupancy of mammals to measures of habitat loss and fragmentation and compared the influence of these two factors while controlling for patch-level variables. Species responded strongly to both fragmentation and loss, and response to fragmentation generally was negative. Our findings support previous assumptions that conservation of large mammals in the tropics will require conservation strategies that go beyond prevention of habitat loss to also consider forest cohesion or other aspects of landscape configuration.

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