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Bird communities in habitats along a successional gradient: Divergent patterns of species richness, specialization and threat

Reif, Jiří, Marhoul, Pavel, Koptík, Jiří
Basic and applied ecology 2013 v.14 no.5 pp. 423-431
abandoned land, birds, breeding, forests, grasslands, habitats, humans, landscapes, models, shrublands, species diversity, threatened species, Czech Republic
The long history of human influence on northern temperate landscapes has created a mosaic of successional stages, from closed forest to open grassland. Various species thus adapted to different habitats and it is interesting to explore how these differences in species composition among particular successional stages translate into differences at the community level. For this purpose, we surveyed breeding birds in 233 patches of five different habitats covering a gradient from bare ground to forest in 29 abandoned military training sites scattered throughout the Czech Republic. Linear mixed effects modelling revealed that late-successional habitats (dense scrubland and forest) were the most species-rich, whereas early-successional stages hosted bird communities with the highest habitat specialization and threat level. These results suggest that the habitats of late-successional stages are important for the maintenance of high bird species richness, but that early-successional habitats are essential for highly specialized and threatened bird species. Given the highly adverse impacts of agricultural intensification and land abandonment on open habitats, it is necessary to promote factors creating initial successional stages suitable for specialized and threatened species.