, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 3543-3557
Date: 27 Oct 2006

Benefits of habitat restoration to small mammal diversity and abundance in a pastoral agricultural landscape in mid-Wales

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Abstract

Changes in agricultural practice are predicted across the UK following agricultural reform driven by government policy. The suitability of agri-environment schemes for many species is currently debated because limited quantitative data are collected. In order to understand the changes to biodiversity due to agri-environment schemes, there is a need for studies to not just compare biodiversity and species composition in and out of agri-environment areas, but to factor in the influence of temporal habitat changes. In this study, we investigate the suitability of an agri-environment initiative to support and enhance a small mammal fauna among pastoral hill farms in mid-Wales. Grazed and ungrazed woodlands, riparian habitats, and broadleaf plantations, were compared for small mammal abundance and diversity following a trapping study. Mammal diversity was similar across habitats, though abundance varied significantly. A principle component analysis identified that mammal abundance clustered into three main habitat groups separated by seral stage (early, mid, late). No relationship between mammal abundance and stock grazing was found. A canonical correspondence analysis confirmed that vegetation structure was important in explaining the distribution of captures of mammal species across the landscape. The results for habitat type, and habitat context, suggest that a mix of vegetation seral stages, reflecting a varied vegetation structure, is important to maintain small mammal diversity and abundance across the study area. Heterogeneity in structural diversity at the landscape scale is important to maintain a variety of ground-dwelling mammal species, and particularly because trends in countryside surveys show that woodlands are skewed towards late seral stages. Habitat heterogeneity can be maintained because the hill farms neighbour each other, and the farmers co-operate as a group to manage the landscape. Habitat diversity is therefore possible. These results help us to advocate, and anticipate, the benefits of groups of farms within a landscape.