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Conservation status of birds in habitats along a successional gradient from bare ground to forest

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Abstract

Ecological succession creates a sequence of habitat types after an initial disturbance. In Central Europe, these types typically include a gradient of stages from bare ground to forest. Ecological communities differ between habitat types because some species are associated with a given type along the gradient. The conservation status of these communities provides information about environmental pressures acting upon the respective habitat types. Here, we focused on birds and compared three measures of their conservation status, namely population trend, Red List category, and legal protection, expressed at two different levels, national and European, among the habitat types. We used data from the mapping of breeding bird occurrences in 42 abandoned military training sites in Czechia covering the entire successional gradient. In these areas, we identified 423 habitat polygons, each representing one of the following habitat types: bare ground, grassland, sparse scrubland, dense scrubland and forest. In general, birds recorded in forest had the most favorable conservation status, while birds recorded on bare ground and grassland had the least favorable; birds of both types of scrublands showed intermediate values. This corresponds to recent findings of the suitability of forest management for bird populations in Central Europe on the one hand and the adverse impacts of various changes in the human use of open habitats on the other. We observed a general agreement in the different measures, indicating that population trends are likely used for Red List categorization, which further serves to select species for legal protection. However, exceptions to this general pattern suggest that the listing and establishment of legal protection do not adequately reflect population changes and need more frequent updating.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to the following colleagues who significantly contributed to fieldwork or data processing: Miroslav Bažant, Oldřich Čížek, David Hořák, Věra Hromádková, Pavel Marhoul, David Storch, Jakub Vlček and Petr Voříšek. David Hořák provided us with useful feedback on the master’s thesis of VB that formed the basis for this manuscript. David W. Hardekopf kindly corrected the English. The Editor and an anonymous reviewer provided valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The study was supported by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (program “Prostředí pro život”, project SS03010162).

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Bystřický, V., Dvořáková, L. & Reif, J. Conservation status of birds in habitats along a successional gradient from bare ground to forest. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 24, 305–315 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42974-023-00158-2

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