Species- and sex-specific connectivity effects of habitat fragmentation in a suite of woodland birds Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Loss of functional connectivity following habitat loss and fragmentation could drive species declines. A comprehensive understanding of fragmentation effects on functional connectivity of an ecological assemblage requires investigation of multiple species with different mobilities, at different spatial scales, for each sex, and in different landscapes. Based on published data on mobility and ecological responses to fragmentation of 10 woodland-dependent birds, and using simulation studies, we predicted that (1) fragmentation would impede dispersal and gene flow of eight "decliners" (species that disappear from suitable patches when landscape-level tree cover falls below species-specific thresholds), but not of two "tolerant" species (whose occurrence in suitable habitat patches is independent of landscape tree cover); and that fragmentation effects would be stronger (2) in the least mobile species, (3) in the more philopatric sex, and (4) in the more fragmented region. We tested these predictions by evaluating spatially explicit isolation-by-landscape-resistance models of gene flow in fragmented landscapes across a 50 x 170 km study area in central Victoria, Australia, using individual and population genetic distances. To account for sex-biased dispersal and potential scale- and configuration-specific effects, we fitted models specific to sex and geographic zones. As predicted, four of the least mobile decliners showed evidence of reduced genetic connectivity. The responses were strongly sex specific, but in opposite directions in the two most sedentary species. Both tolerant species and (unexpectedly) four of the more mobile decliners showed no reduction in gene flow. This is unlikely to be due to time lags because more mobile species develop genetic signatures of fragmentation faster than do less mobile ones. Weaker genetic effects were observed in the geographic zone with more aggregated vegetation, consistent with gene flow being unimpeded by landscape structure. Our results indicate that for all but the most sedentary species in our system, the movement of the more dispersive sex (females in most cases) maintains overall genetic connectivity across fragmented landscapes in the study area, despite some small-scale effects on the more philopatric sex for some species. Nevertheless, to improve population viability for the less mobile bird species, structural landscape connectivity must be increased.

publication date

  • 2014