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Revegetation and reproduction: do restoration plantings in agricultural landscapes support breeding populations of woodland birds?

Abstract

Restoration plantings are frequently occupied by native wildlife, but little is known about how planting attributes influence breeding by, and persistence of, fauna populations. We monitored breeding success of woodland birds in restoration plantings in a fragmented agricultural landscape in south-eastern Australia. We documented nest fate and daily nest survival (DSR) in plantings and remnant woodland sites. We analysed the influence on breeding success of patch attributes (size, shape, type) compared to other potentially influential predictors such as nest-site and microhabitat variables. We found that, in general, patch attributes did not play a significant role in determining breeding success for woodland birds. However, we examined a subset of species of conservation concern, and found higher DSR for these species in restoration plantings than in similarly sized woodland remnants. We also found negative effects of patch size and linearity on DSR in species of conservation concern. The primary cause of nest failure was predation (91%). We used camera trap imagery to identify the most common nest predators in our study sites: native predatory bird species, and the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Our findings are further evidence of the value of restoration plantings and small habitat patches for bird populations in fragmented agricultural landscapes. We recommend controlling for foxes to maximise the likelihood that restoration plantings and other woodland patches in Australia support breeding populations of woodland birds. More broadly, our study highlights the importance of taking a detailed, population-oriented approach to understanding factors that influence habitat suitability for fauna of conservation concern.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for the feedback of the reviewers, which greatly improved an earlier version of our manuscript. We acknowledge the contributions of several field assistants, especially Ashwin Rudder, Matt Gale, and Ira Dudley-Bestow. Additional field assistance was provided by Lachlan Duncan, Gary Belder, and Nick Shore. Hayden Stevens assisted with processing camera trap imagery. We extend our thanks and appreciation to the landowners who permitted access to their properties for the study, and to the Riverina Local Land Services for permission to conduct research on land under their jurisdiction. We are grateful to Phil Gibbons and the Riverina Local Land Services for the loan of wildlife cameras. A Stuart Leslie Research Award to DJB enabled the purchase of additional wildlife cameras. Further funding was provided by the Riverina Local Land Services (research grant no. MBG-0315 to DBL), the Australian Federal Government via the National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub, a Margaret Middleton Fund Award (to DJB), and a Lesslie Scholarship (to DJB). DJB was personally supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. DBL is supported by a range of key donors under the Sustainable Farms project.

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DJB, JCP and DBL conceptualised the study and designed the experiment. DJB conducted the fieldwork, analysed the data, and wrote the manuscript. JCP, KI and DBL provided advice on data analysis and helped edit the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Donna J. Belder.

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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This research was conducted with approval from the Australian National University's Animal Ethics and Experimentation Committee.

Additional information

Our research is novel in its use of a mechanistic approach to assess the effectiveness of restoration plantings as a conservation strategy. We highlight the value of small habitat patches for threatened and declining avifauna.

Communicated by Ola Olsson.

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Belder, D.J., Pierson, J.C., Ikin, K. et al. Revegetation and reproduction: do restoration plantings in agricultural landscapes support breeding populations of woodland birds?. Oecologia 192, 865–878 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04611-1

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Keywords

  • Revegetation
  • Temperate woodland
  • SLOSS
  • Population dynamics