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Use of hedgerows by mammals in an intensive agricultural landscape

Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment

Abstract

Agricultural intensification causes habitat modification, sometimes leading to habitat loss and subsequent loss of connectivity. Remaining species in these agriculture-dominated landscapes often use hedgerows, such as windbreaks or riparian strips, as movement corridors or even as habitats. However, the understanding of the use of these hedgerows by mammals is limited and could be improved with the use of high-resolution remote sensing data, which are unbiased, detailed and repeatable. The aim of this study was to assess the attributes that affect medium- and large-sized mammals' use of hedgerows, with in situ and remotely sensed data (including LiDAR and multispectral images) in an agriculture-dominated landscape in southern Quebec. Twenty-three hedgerows were selected and characterized with both field surveys and remote sensing analyses, like LiDAR metrics and vegetation indices. Wildlife frequentation of each hedgerow was measured using camera traps, from late spring to early fall in 2018. 431 mammal detections were obtained among all 23 hedgerows. From this, seven species were recorded, all of them opportunistic and well adapted to agricultural environment. Results showed significant differences in mammal use of hedgerows. Coefficients of the better-ranked models based on AICc indicated a positive relationship between hedgerow length and their use by mammals, and a negative relationship with the hedgerow width. Hedgerow use by mammals also increased as tree cover and understory density increased, and as human disturbance decreased. These results characterized for the first time the variables influencing hedgerow use by a broad set of medium- and large-sized mammal species and confirmed their use as movement corridors and/or habitat. This study also confirmed the complementary usefulness of variables derived from remote sensing combined with field data. The low explanatory power of variables often cited in the literature (e.g. NDVI, gappiness) also highlights the need to further explore their specific influence on mammals. The information provided by this study supports the beneficial role played by hedgerows for wildlife conservation in intensive agricultural landscapes. Management guidelines are provided as well as future research avenues.

Author(s): Pelletier-Guittier, C; Theau, J; Dupras, J

Journal: Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment

Year: 2020

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