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Using a species-centered approach to predict bird community responses to habitat fragmentation

Abstract

Context

The relative importance of habitat fragmentation versus loss on species richness has been much debated. However, recent findings that fragmentation effects are relatively weak may be an artifact of using human-classified vegetation rather than adopting a species-eye view to measure landscape structure.

Objectives

We present the first example of a species-centered approach for examining fragmentation effects on ecological communities. We tested hypotheses relating to the relative influence of habitat amount, configuration, and focal patch size on southwest Oregon bird communities.

Methods

We used boosted regression trees based on unclassified Landsat TM to create ‘stacked’ species distribution models (S-SDMs) for a large pool of avian species and nested subset of habitat specialists. We tested the relative importance of S-SDM-derived habitat amount, patch number, mean patch size, and focal patch size in explaining species richness. We compared this approach to metrics based on generic land-cover classifications.

Results

Species-centered models had greater statistical support than land-cover models. In species-centered models, species richness increased as a function of focal patch size and decreased with patch number, supporting the hypothesis of negative effects of fragmentation per se. Land-cover based models indicated inconsistent support for habitat amount but a positive effect of fragmentation.

Conclusion

The species-centered approach identified habitat configuration relationships obscured by land-cover based approaches. While positive land-cover based fragmentation effects were consistent with recent synthesis work, the species-centered approach consistently revealed strong negative effects of fragmentation matching traditional theoretical expectations. S-SDMs may offer promise for generalizing ecological theory to real species distributions.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank field assistants Jim DeStaebler, Rob Fowler, Dave Haupt, Aaron Holmes, Frank Lospalluto, Kevin Sands, Dave Spangenburg, Ian Ausprey, and Felicity Newell, as well as Jonathon Valente, Noelia Volpe, Jim Rivers, Kyle Pritchard, and Saskia Halstead for additional support. Access to study sites and logistical support was provided by Bureau of Land Management Medford District, City of Ashland Parks and Recreation, City of Medford Parks and Recreation, Douglas County Parks Department, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, The Nature Conservancy, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program. We are grateful to the private landowners who allowed access to their property. Data from long-term monitoring efforts accessed from Avian Knowledge Northwest, a regional node of the Avian Knowledge Network. This study was supported by grants from National Science Foundation (NSF-DEB-1457837) to M.G. Betts and A.S. Hadley, and from Oregon State University to K.E. Halstead. Klamath Bird Observatory completed the data collection in partnership with American Bird Conservancy as part of ongoing conservation science efforts led by Bob Altman and funded by the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

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Correspondence to Katherine E. Halstead or Matthew G. Betts.

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Halstead, K.E., Alexander, J.D., Hadley, A.S. et al. Using a species-centered approach to predict bird community responses to habitat fragmentation. Landscape Ecol 34, 1919–1935 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00860-5

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Keywords

  • Species-centered approach
  • S-SDMs
  • Fragmentation threshold
  • Habitat amount hypothesis
  • Bird species richness
  • Temperate forest