Habitat attributes of landscape mosaics along a gradient of matrix development intensity: matrix management matters
The matrix is an important element of landscape mosaics that influences wildlife indirectly through its influence on habitat, and directly, if they live in or move through it. Therefore, to quantify and manage habitat quality for wildlife in modified landscapes, it is necessary to consider the characteristics of both patch and matrix elements of the whole landscape mosaic. To isolate matrix effects from the often simultaneous and confounding influence of patch and landscape characteristics, we identified nineteen 500 m radius landscapes in southeast Queensland, Australia with similar remnant forest patch attributes, habitat loss, and fragmentation, but exhibiting a marked gradient from rural through high-density suburban development of the matrix, quantified by a weighted road-length metric. We measured habitat disturbance, structure, and floristics in patch core, patch edge and matrix landscape elements to characterise how landscape habitat quality changes for small mammals. Correlation analyses identified that with increased matrix development intensity, human disturbance of core sites increased, predators and exotic plant species richness in matrix sites increased, and structural complexity (e.g. logs and stumps) in the matrix decreased. Ordination analyses showed landscape elements were most similar in habitat structure and floristics at low to moderate levels of matrix development, suggesting enhanced landscape habitat quality. Matrix development intensity was not, however, the greatest source of overall variation of habitat throughout landscapes. Many variables, such as landholder behaviour, complicate the relationship. For enhanced conservation outcomes the matrix needs to be managed to control disturbances and strategically plan for matrix habitat retention and restoration.