Rural abandoned landscapes and bird assemblages: winners and losers in the rewilding of a marginal mountain area (NW Spain)
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- Regos, A., Domínguez, J., Gil-Tena, A. et al. Reg Environ Change (2016) 16: 199. doi:10.1007/s10113-014-0740-7
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In many regions of Europe, large-scale socio-economic changes have led to the abandonment of rural activities and a gradual takeover of natural vegetation. It is important to assess the relative positive and negative effects of land abandonment on particular areas where the low-intensity farming is no longer socially or economically viable in order to quantify the potential conservation costs and benefits of a rewilding as a land-use management policy. During the period 2000–2010, we studied the land-use/land-cover changes in an abandoned mountain landscape (Galicia, NW Spain) and evaluated the effects on breeding bird occurrence and distribution. For this purpose, we analysed remotely sensed data-derived maps in combination with data obtained from bird censuses carried out in 2000 and 2010 at both landscape and census plot scale. The results revealed a gradient of change from bare ground and open shrubland to closed shrubland and woodland. Thirteen shrubland and forest bird species showed a significant increase (including species of conservation concern such as Turtle Dove, Dartford Warbler and Western Bonelli’s Warbler), while four ecotone and open-habitat species (e.g. Red-backed Shrike) showed a significant negative trend. In conclusion, rewilding appears to have overall positive effects on biodiversity and should be considered by policy makers as alternative land-use strategy in marginal mountain areas, particularly if they have been historically affected by wildfires. Fire management aimed at favouring the creation of small burned areas in progressively closed landscapes derived from rewilding may be a complementary alternative to maintain open habitats in these areas.