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Independent effects of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and structural connectivity on forest-dependent birds

Diversity and Distributions


Aim Habitat loss and fragmentation are amongst the greatest threats to biodiversity world-wide. However, there is still little evidence on the relative influence of these two distinct processes on biodiversity, and no study, to date, has investigated the independent contribution of structural connectivity in addition to habitat loss and fragmentation. The aim of this study is to evaluate the independent effects of habitat loss (the decrease in total amount of habitat), habitat fragmentation per se (habitat subdivision) and structural connectivity (in the form of hedgerow networks) on the distribution of seven resident forest-dependent birds in central Italy. Location Central Italy. Methods We strategically selected 30 landscapes (each of 16 km2 in size) with decreasing total amount of forest cover and with contrasting configuration of patches and contrasting lengths of hedgerow networks. Presence/absence of birds in each landscape unit was studied through point counts. Results The amount of forest cover in the landscape had the strongest relative influence on birds' occupancy, whilst habitat subdivision played a negligible role. Structural connectivity and the geographic position of the landscape unit played a relatively important role for four species. Main conclusions Our study shows the importance of disentangling the contribution of different landscape properties in determining distribution patterns. Our results are consistent with the fact that halting habitat loss and carrying out habitat restoration should be conservation priorities, since habitat loss is the main factor affecting the distribution of the target species; implementation of structural connectivity through hedgerows, instead, should be evaluated with caution since its contribution is secondary to the predominant role of habitat loss.

Author(s): Mortelliti, A; Fagiani, S; Battisti, C; Capizzi, D; Boitani, L

Journal: Diversity and Distributions

Year: 2010