BIRDS IN AGRICULTURAL MOSAICS: THE INFLUENCE OF LANDSCAPE PATTERN AND COUNTRYSIDE HETEROGENEITY Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Agricultural environments are critical to the conservation of biota throughout the world. Efforts to identify key influences on the conservation status of fauna in such environments have taken complementary approaches. Many studies have focused on the role of remnant or seminatural vegetation and emphasized the influence on biota of spatial patterns in the landscape. Others have recognized that many species use diverse "countryside" elements within farmland, and emphasize the benefits of landscape heterogeneity for conservation. Here, we investigated the effect of independent measures of both the spatial pattern (extent and configuration) and heterogeneity of elements (i.e., land uses/vegetation types) on bird occurrence in farm-scale agricultural mosaics in southeastern Australia. Birds were sampled in all types of elements in 27 mosaics (each 1 x 1 km) selected to incorporate variation in cover of native vegetation and the number of different element types in the mosaic. We used an information-theoretic approach to identify the mosaic properties that most strongly influenced bird species richness. Subgroups of birds based on habitat requirements responded most strongly to the extent of preferred elements in mosaics. Woodland birds were richer in mosaics with higher cover of native vegetation while open-tolerant species responded to the extent of scattered trees. In contrast, for total species richness, mosaic heterogeneity (richness of element types) and landscape context (cover of native vegetation in surrounding area) had the greatest influence. These results showed that up to 76% of landscape-level variation in richness of bird groups is attributable to mosaic properties directly amenable to management by landowners. Key implications include (1) conservation goals for farm landscapes must be carefully defined because the richness of different faunal components is influenced by different mosaic properties; (2) the extent of native vegetation is a critical influence in agricultural environments because it drives the farm-scale richness of woodland birds and has a broader context effect on total bird richness in mosaics; (3) land-use practices that enhance the heterogeneity of farmland mosaics are beneficial for native birds; and (4) the cumulative effect of even small elements in farm mosaics contribute to the structural properties of entire landscapes.

publication date

  • January 2008