, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 168-176

Habitat Fragmentation in Arid Zones: A Case Study of Linaria nigricans Under Land Use Changes (SE Spain)

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Abstract

Habitat fragmentation due to human activities is one of the most important causes of biodiversity loss. In Mediterranean areas the species have co-evolved with traditional farming, which has recently been replaced for more severe and aggressive practices. We use a methodological approach that enables the evaluation of the impact that agriculture and land use changes have for the conservation of sensitive species. As model species, we selected Linaria nigricans, a critically endangered plant from arid and semiarid ecosystems in south-eastern Spain. A chronosequence of the evolution of the suitable habitat for the species over more than 50 years has been reconstructed and several geometrical fragmentation indices have been calculated. A new index called fragmentation cadence (FC) is proposed to quantify the historical evolution of habitat fragmentation regardless of the habitat size. The application of this index has provided objective forecasting of the changes of each remnant population of L. nigricans. The results indicate that greenhouses and construction activities (mainly for tourist purposes) exert a strong impact on the populations of this endangered species. The habitat depletion showed peaks that constitute the destruction of 85% of the initial area in only 20 years for some populations of L. nigricans. According to the forecast established by the model, a rapid extinction could take place and some populations may disappear as early as the year 2030. Fragmentation-cadence analysis can help identify population units of primary concern for its conservation, by means of the adoption of improved management and regulatory measures.