, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 663-675

Bird assemblages in forest fragments within Mediterranean mosaics created by wild fires

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The role of habitat heterogeneity as a key factor in determining species pools in habitat mosaics has been acknowledged, but we still know little on the relative importance of the different ecological processes acting within such complex landscapes. We compared species richness and distribution in forest fragments imbedded in shrub-lands to those in continuous forests or in continuous shrublands. We examined the consistency of our data with the predictions of two hypotheses: 1) the “Habitat fragmentation hypothesis” which states that fragmentation has negative effects on the species from the original continuous habitat; 2) the “Habitat supplementation /complementation hypothesis” which stipulates that the presence of a matrix habitat around the fragments will mitigate negative effects on the species from the original habitat (supplementation) or allow the presence of species that depend on the presence of both the fragment and matrix habitats (complementation). We show that: 1) species richness in forest fragments did not differ from species richness in segments of continuous forests of equal area; 2) the bird community of forest fragments got impoverished in some forest species but a higher proportion of species common in continuous forests were not affected by fragmentation; 3) fragment communities had a significant proportion of common species that were scarce in, or absent from both continuous forests and shrublands. While, a few forest species supported predictions from the fragmentation hypothesis, occurrence patterns observed in several other species were consistent with either the supplementation or the complementation hypotheses. Our results suggest that there is no single hypothesis that properly captures the consequences of a shift from continuous forests to a mosaic of forest fragments and shrublands and that different ecological mechanisms act in conjunction to determine species pools in habitat mosaics. Habitat heterogeneity at a local scale appears a key factor in maintaining bird diversity in fire driven Mediterranean landscapes.