Landscape Ecology

, Volume 30, Issue 8, pp 1387–1403 | Cite as

Woodland habitat structures are affected by both agricultural land management and abiotic conditions

  • Karen Ikin
  • Alessio Mortelliti
  • John Stein
  • Damian Michael
  • Mason Crane
  • Sachiko Okada
  • Jeff Wood
  • David Lindenmayer
Research Article



The identification of habitat structures with biologically meaningful links to habitat quality has enabled an increased understanding of wildlife distributions in fragmented landscapes. However, knowledge is lacking of where these structures occur in the landscape.


For a broad-scale agricultural landscape, we investigated how the occurrence and abundance of wildlife habitat structures is related to abiotic conditions and land management practices, and whether this differed between old growth and regrowth woodland.


We used generalised linear mixed models to investigate the distribution of eight habitat structures in the South-West Slopes bioregion of south-eastern Australia.


Only one habitat structure, canopy depth, was related to abiotic conditions alone, whereas only leaf litter cover was related to land management practices only. Each of the other structures (abundance of logs, large trees, hollow-bearing trees, mid-sized trees and dead trees, and amount of native grass cover) was related to a combination and/or interaction of abiotic conditions and land management practices. Old growth woodland had higher log, large tree and hollow-bearing tree abundance, whereas regrowth woodland had higher mid-sized tree and dead tree abundance.


Our findings inform key management prescriptions that can be used to improve conservation efforts so they have strong, quantifiable effects on wildlife habitat in temperate agricultural landscapes. Our case study shows that by understanding how management actions in specific abiotic conditions lead to the increased occurrence or abundance of particular habitat structures, management can be spatially targeted to alternative conservation strategies relevant to the landscape of interest.


Agricultural intensification Conservation Habitat loss and fragmentation Patch quality Ecosystem restoration Australia 



We thank the Australian Research Council, the Murray Catchment Management Authority and the Caring for Our Country Program for funding for this project. We thank C. MacGregor, L. McBurney, D. Blair and S. Lucas for their important contribution to the collection of the field data, A. Smith for her patient help with R code, J. Newport for her generous assistance with preparing Fig. 3, and I. Stirnemann for her valuable feedback on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10980_2015_193_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)


  1. Antos MJ, Bennett AF, White JG (2008) Where exactly do ground-foraging woodland birds forage? Foraging sites and microhabitat selection in temperate woodlands of southern Australia. Emu 108:201–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barton PS, Manning AD, Gibb H, Wood JT, Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham SA (2011) Experimental reduction of native vertebrate grazing and addition of logs benefit beetle diversity at multiple scales. J Appl Ecol 48:943–951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett AF, Lumsden LF, Nicholls AO (1994) Tree hollows as a resource for wildlife in remnant woodlands: spatial and temporal patterns across the Northern Plains of Victoria, Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 1:222–235Google Scholar
  4. Benson J (2008) New South Wales vegetation classification and assessment: Part 2 plant communities of the NSW South-western Slopes Bioregion and update of NSW Western Plains plant communities, Version 2 of the NSWVCA database. Cunninghamia 104:599–673Google Scholar
  5. Bhargav V, Uniyal VP, Sivakumar K (2009) Distinctive patterns in habitat association and distribution of tiger beetles in the Shivalik landscape of North Western India. J Insect Conserv 13:459–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolker BM, Brooks ME, Clark CJ, Geange SW, Poulsen JR, Stevens MHH, White J-SS (2009) Generalized linear mixed models: a practical guide for ecology and evolution. Trends Ecol Evol 24:127–135PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowen ME, McAlpine CA, Seabrook LM, House APN, Smith GC (2009) The age and amount of regrowth forest in fragmented brigalow landscapes are both important for woodland dependent birds. Biol Conserv 142:3051–3059CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carvalho KS, Vasconcelos HL (1999) Forest fragmentation in central Amazonia and its effects on litter-dwelling ants. Biol Conserv 91:151–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collard SJ, Le Brocque AF, Zammit C (2011) Effects of local-scale management on herbaceous plant communities in Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) agroecosystems of southern Queensland, Australia. Agric Ecosyst Environ 142:176–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crane MJ, Montague-Drake RM, Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB (2008) The characteristics of den trees used by the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in temperate Australian woodlands. Wildl Res 35:663–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB, Crane M, Michael D, MacGregor C (2007) Reptile and arboreal marsupial response to replanted vegetation in agricultural landscapes. Ecol Appl 17:609–619PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB, Crane M, Michael D, MacGregor C, Montague-Drake R, Fischer J (2008) The combined effects of remnant vegetation and tree planting on farmland birds. Conserv Biol 22:742–752PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cunningham S, Duncan DH, Driscoll DA (2012) Land use intensification impacts on biodiversity in the mallee/wheat landscape of central NSW. In: Lindenmayer D, Cunningham S, Young A (eds) Land use intensification. Effects on agriculture, biodiversty and ecological processes. CSIRO Publishing, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  14. Cunningham R, Lindenmayer D, Barton P, Ikin K, Crane M, Michael D, Okada S, Gibbons P, Stein J (2014a) Cross-sectional and temporal relationships between bird occupancy and vegetation cover at multiple spatial scales. Ecol Appl 24:1275–1288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cunningham R, Lindenmayer DB, Michael D, Crane M, Barton PS, Gibbons P, Okada S, Ikin K, Stein JAR (2014b) The law of diminishing returns: woodland birds respond to native vegetation cover at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Divers Distrib 20:59–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Danaher T (2011) Description of remote sensing based foliage projective cover and woody extent products. Office of environment and heritage, NSW Department of Premier and CabinetGoogle Scholar
  17. Davidson NJ, Close DC, Battaglia M, Churchill K, Ottenschlaeger M, Watson T, Bruce J (2007) Eucalypt health and agricultural land management within bushland remnants in the Midlands of Tasmania, Australia. Biol Conserv 139:439–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Vries R (2009) Australia’s substrate fertility—Version 0.8. Department of the environment, water, Heritage and the Arts, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  19. deMars CA, Rosenberg DK, Fontaine JB (2010) Multi-scale factors affecting bird use of isolated remnant trees in agro-ecosystems. Biol Conserv 143:1485–1492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Didham RK (1998) Altered leaf-litter decomposition rates in tropical forest fragments. Oecologia 116:397–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Donald PF, Evans AD (2006) Habitat connectivity and matrix restoration: the wider implications of agri-environment schemes. J Appl Ecol 43:209–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dorrough J, Scroggie MP (2008) Plant responses to agricultural intensification. J Appl Ecol 45:1274–1283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dorrough J, Moxham C, Turner V, Sutter G (2006) Soil phosphorus and tree cover modify the effects of livestock grazing on plant species richness in Australian grassy woodland. Biol Conserv 130:394–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fischer J, Stott J, Zerger A, Warren G, Sherren K, Forrester RI (2009) Reversing a tree regeneration crisis in an endangered ecoregion. PNAS 106:10386–10391PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Fischer J, Zerger A, Gibbons P, Stott J, Law B (2010) Tree decline and the future of Australian farmland biodiversity. PNAS 107:19597–19602PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Frey-Ehrenbold A, Bontadina F, Arlettaz R, Obrist MK (2013) Landscape connectivity, habitat structure and activity of bat guilds in farmland-dominated matrices. J Appl Ecol 50:252–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fuller RJ, Smith K, Grice P, Currie F, Quine C (2007) Habitat change and woodland birds in Britain: implications for management and future research. Ibis 149(Suppl. 2):261–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Geddes LS, Lunt ID, Smallbone LT, Morgan JW (2011) Old field colonization by native trees and shrubs following land use change: could this be Victoria’s largest example of landscape recovery? Ecol Manage Restor 12:31–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gibbons P, Boak M (2002) The value of paddock trees for regional conservation in an agricultural landscape. Ecol Manage Restor 3:205–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gibbons P, Lindenmayer D, Barry S, Tanton MT (2000) Hollow formation in eucalypts from temperate forests in southeastern Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 6:218–228Google Scholar
  31. Gibbons P, Lindenmayer DB, Fischer J, Manning AD, Weinberg A, Seddon J, Ryan P, Barrett G (2008) The future of scattered trees in agricultural landscapes. Conserv Biol 22:1309–1319PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gott B (2005) Aboriginal fire management in south-eastern Australia: aims and frequency. J Biogeogr 32:1203–1208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hanspach J, Fischer J, Ikin K, Stott J, Law BS (2012) Using trait-based filtering as a predictive framework for conservation: a case study of bats on farms in southeastern Australia. J Appl Ecol 49:842–850CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Holland GJ, Bennett AF (2007) Occurrence of small mammals in a fragmented landscape: the role of vegetation heterogeneity. Wildl Res 34:387–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Huth N, Possingham HP (2011) Basic ecological theory can inform habitat restoration for woodland birds. J Appl Ecol 48:293–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ikin K, Barton PS, Stirnemann IA, Stein JR, Michael D, Crane M, Okada S, Lindenmayer DB (2014) Multi-scale associations between vegetation cover and woodland bird communities across a large agricultural region. PLoS ONE 9:e97029PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. Joseph G, Cumming G, Cumming DM, Mahlangu Z, Altwegg R, Seymour C (2011) Large termitaria act as refugia for tall trees, deadwood and cavity-using birds in a miombo woodland. Landscape Ecol 26:439–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kanowski J, Catterall CP, Wardell-Johnson GW, Proctor H, Reis T (2003) Development of forest structure on cleared rainforest land in eastern Australia under different styles of reforestation. For Ecol Manage 183:265–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Killey P, McElhinny C, Rayner I, Wood J (2010) Modelling fallen branch volumes in a temperate eucalypt woodland: implications for large senescent trees and benchmark loads of coarse woody debris. Austral Ecol 35:956–968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kleijn D, Rundlöf M, Scheper J, Smith HG, Tscharntke T (2011) Does conservation on farmland contribute to halting the biodiversity decline? Trends Ecol Evol 26:474–481PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Klimek S, Richter gen. Kemmermann A, Hofmann M, Isselstein J (2007) Plant species richness and composition in managed grasslands: the relative importance of field management and environmental factors. Biol Conserv 134: 559–570Google Scholar
  42. Knight EH, Fox BJ (2000) Does habitat structure mediate the effects of forest fragmentation and human-induced disturbance on the abundance of Antechinus stuartii? Aust J Zool 48:577–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Levey DJ, Bolker BM, Tewksbury JJ, Sargent S, Haddad NM (2005) Effects of landscape corridors on seed dispersal by birds. Science 309:146–148PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB, Donnelly CF, Tanton MT, Nix HA (1993) The abundance and development of cavities in Eucalyptus trees: a case study in the montane forests of Victoria, southeastern Australia. For Ecol Manage 60:77–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB, Pope ML (1999) A large-scale ‘experiment’ to examine the effects of landscape context and habitat fragmentation on mammals. Biol Conserv 88:387–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB, MacGregor C, Tribolet C, Donnelly CF (2001) A prospective longitudinal study of landscape matrix effects on fauna in woodland remnants: experimental design and baseline data. Biol Conserv 101:157–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lindenmayer D, Crane M, Michael D, Montague-Drake R, MacGregor C (2010) Conservation of woodland vertebrate biotia in the temperate woodlands of southern New South Wales. In: Lindenmayer D, Bennett AF, Hobbs R (eds) Temperate woodland conservation and management. CSIRO Publishing, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  48. Lindenmayer DB, Northrop-Mackie AR, Montague-Drake R, Crane M, Michael D, Okada S, Gibbons P (2012) Not all kinds of revegetation are created equal: revegetation type influences bird assemblages in threatened australian woodland ecosystems. PLoS ONE 7:e34527PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  49. Lunt I (1997) Germinable soil seed banks of anthropogenic native grasslands and grassy forest remnants in temperate south-eastern Australia. Plant Ecol 130:21–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Major RE, Christie FJ, Gowing G (2001) Influence of remnant and landscape attributes on Australian woodland bird communities. Biol Conserv 102:47–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Manning AD, Fischer J, Lindenmayer DB (2006) Scattered trees are keystone structures—implications for conservation. Biol Conserv 132:311–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Manning AD, Lindenmayer DB, Barry S, Nix HA (2007) Large-scale spatial and temporal dynamics of the vulnerable and highly mobile superb parrot. J Biogeogr 34:289–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Manning AD, Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB (2013a) Bringing forward the benefits of coarse woody debris in ecosystem recovery under different levels of grazing and vegetation density. Biol Conserv 157:204–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Manning AD, Gibbons P, Fischer J, Oliver DL, Lindenmayer DB (2013b) Hollow futures? Tree decline, lag effects and hollow-dependent species. Anim Conserv 16:395–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McElhinny C, Gibbons P, Brack C, Bauhus J (2005) Forest and woodland stand structural complexity: its definition and measurement. For Ecol Manage 218:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McElhinny C, Gibbons P, Brack C, Bauhus J (2006) Fauna-habitat relationships: a basis for identifying key stand structural attributes in temperate Australian eucalypt forests and woodlands. Pac Conserv Biol 12:89–110Google Scholar
  57. McIntyre S (2002) Trees. In: McIntyre S, McIvor J, Heard K (eds) Managing and conserving grassy woodlands. CSIRO Publishing, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  58. McIntyre S (2008) The role of plant leaf attributes in linking land use to ecosystem function in temperate grassy vegetation. Agric Ecosyst Environ 128:251–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McIntyre S, Lavorel S (2007) A conceptual model of land use effects on the structure and function of herbaceous vegetation. Agric Ecosyst Environ 119:11–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McIvor J, McIntyre S (2002) Understanding grassy woodland ecosystems. In: McIntyre S, McIvor J, Heard K (eds) Managing and conserving grassy woodlands. CSIRO Publishing, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  61. Michael DR, Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB (2008) A forgotten habitat? Granite inselbergs conserve reptile diversity in fragmented agricultural landscapes. J Appl Ecol 45:1742–1752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Michael DR, Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB (2010) Microhabitat relationships among five lizard species associated with granite outcrops in fragmented agricultural landscapes of south-eastern Australia. Austral Ecol 35:214–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Michael DR, Cunningham RB, Lindenmayer DB (2011) Regrowth and revegetation in temperate Australia presents a conservation challenge for reptile fauna in agricultural landscapes. Biol Conserv 144:407–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Michael DR, Wood JT, Crane M, Montague-Drake R, Lindenmayer DB (2014) How effective are agri-environment schemes for protecting and improving herpetofaunal diversity in Australian endangered woodland ecosystems? J Appl Ecol. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12215 Google Scholar
  65. Miller JR, Cale P (2000) Behavioural mechanisms and habitat use by birds in a fragmented agricultural landscape. Ecol Appl 10:1732–1748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Montague-Drake R, Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham R (2009) Factors effecting site occupancy by woodland bird species of conservation concern. Biol Conserv 142:2896–2903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Montague-Drake RM, Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB, Stein JA (2011) A reverse keystone species affects the landscape distribution of woodland avifauna: a case study using the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) and other Australian birds. Landscape Ecol 26:1383–1394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Morgan JW (1998) Small-scale plant dynamics in temperate Themeda triandra grasslands of southeastern Australia. J Veg Sci 9:347–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Mortelliti A (2013) Targeting habitat management in fragmented landscapes: a case study with forest vertebrates. Biodivers Conserv 22:187–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mortelliti A, Boitani L (2008) Interaction of food resources and landscape structure in determining the probability of patch use by carnivores in fragmented landscapes. Landscape Ecol 23:285–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mortelliti A, Amori G, Boitani L (2010) The role of habitat quality in fragmented landscapes: a conceptual overview and prospectus for future research. Oecologia 163:535–547PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Peltzer DA, MacLeod CJ (2014) Weeds and native plant species are negatively associated along grassland and kiwifruit land management intensity gradients. Austral Ecol 39:39–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Polyakov M, Rowles A, Radford J, Bennett A, Park G, Roberts A, Pannell D (2013) Using habitat extent and composition to predict the occurrence of woodland birds in fragmented landscapes. Landscape Ecol 28:329–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rayner L, Ellis M, Taylor JE (2013) Hollow occurrence and abundance varies with tree characteristics and among species in temperate woodland Eucalyptus. Austral Ecol. doi: 10.1111/aec.12052 Google Scholar
  75. Seymour CL, Dean WRJ (2010) The influence of changes in habitat structure on the species composition of bird assemblages in the southern Kalahari. Austral Ecol 35:581–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sirami C, Jay-Robert P, Brustel H, Valladares L, Le Guilloux S, Martin J-L (2008) Saproxylic beetle assemblages of old holm-oak trees in the Mediterranean region: role of a keystone structure in a changing heterogeneous landscape. Revue d’Ecologie (la Terre et la Vie) 63:93–106Google Scholar
  77. Specht RL, Specht A (1999) Australian plant communities: dynamics of structure, growth and biodiversity. Oxford University Press, South MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  78. Spooner PG, Briggs SV (2008) Woodlands on farms in southern New South Wales: a longer-term assessment of vegetation changes after fencing. Ecol Manage Restor 9:33–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Spooner P, Lunt I, Robinson W (2002) Is fencing enough? The short-term effects of stock exclusion in remnant grassy woodlands in southern NSW. Ecol Manage Restor 3:117–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Stojanovic D, Webb M, Roshier D, Saunders D, Heinsohn R (2012) Ground-based survey methods both overestimate and underestimate the abundance of suitable tree-cavities for the endangered Swift Parrot. Emu 112:350–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tewksbury JJ, Levey DJ, Haddad NM, Sargent S, Orrock JL, Weldon A, Danielson BJ, Brinkerhoff J, Damschen EI, Townsend P (2002) Corridors affect plants, animals, and their interactions in fragmented landscapes. PNAS 99:12923–12926PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  82. Tscharntke T, Klein AM, Kruess A, Steffan-Dewenter I, Thies C (2005) Landscape perspectives on agricultural intensification and biodiversity—ecosystem service management. Ecol Lett 8:857–874CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Uthes S, Matzdorf B, Müller K, Kaechele H (2010) Spatial targeting of agri-environmental measures: cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences. Environ Manage 46:494–509PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. van der Horst D (2007) Assessing the efficiency gains of improved spatial targeting of policy interventions; the example of an agri-environmental scheme. J Environ Manage 85:1076–1087PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Ver Hoef JM, Boveng PL (2007) Quasi-poisson vs. negative binomial regression: how should we model overdispersed count data? Ecology 88:2766–2772PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Vesk PA, Mac Nally R (2006) The clock is ticking—revegetation and habitat for birds and aboreal mammals in rural landscapes of southern Australia. Agric Ecosyst Environ 112:356–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Waltert M, Bobo KS, Sainge NM, Fermon H, Mühlenberg M (2005) From forest to farmland: habitat effects on afrotropical forest bird diversity. Ecol Appl 15:1351–1366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Watson DM (2011) A productivity-based explanation for woodland bird declines: poorer soils yield less food. Emu 111:10–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Williams KJ, Ferrier S, Rosauer D, Yeates D, Manion G, Hardwood T, Stein J, Faith D, Laity T, Whalen A (2010) Harnessing continent-wide biodiversity datasets for prioritising national conservation investment. A report prepared for the department of sustainability, environment, water, population and communities. CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, CanberraGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Ikin
    • 1
  • Alessio Mortelliti
    • 1
  • John Stein
    • 1
  • Damian Michael
    • 1
  • Mason Crane
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sachiko Okada
    • 1
  • Jeff Wood
    • 1
  • David Lindenmayer
    • 1
  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian Research Council Centre for Environmental Decisions, National Environmental Research ProgramThe Australian National UniversityActonAustralia
  2. 2.CanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations