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Abandoned military training sites are an overlooked refuge for at-risk open habitat bird species

Reif, Jiří, Marhoul, Pavel, Čížek, Oldřich, Konvička, Martin
Biodiversity and conservation 2011 v.20 no.14 pp. 3645-3662
altitude, birds, forests, habitats, land use change, landscapes, plant communities, population dynamics, population size, shrublands, socioeconomic development, urbanization, Czech Republic
The European landscape is under pervasive attack of massive land use changes, such as agricultural intensification, urbanization and land abandonment. These changes resulted in population decline of birds living in open habitats. Despite a good understanding on the effects of these driving forces on bird populations, effective conservation actions are difficult to conduct as these forces are closely connected with socioeconomic development of particular countries and thus almost impossible to reverse. It is hence necessary to conserve refuge sites with a limited influence of these negative factors. We surveyed birds in 42 abandoned military training sites (AMTS) in a central European country, the Czech Republic, and we have found these sites are valuable, and to date overlooked, refuges for bird conservation. Birds of high conservation concern and open habitats birds (such as Miliaria calandra, Saxicola torquata or Lullula arborea) were more abundant in AMTS than predicted by their total population size in the Czech Republic. The most important characteristics predicting attractiveness of AMTS for birds of conservation concern were low altitude, low proportion of forest/dense scrubland, high proportion of sparse scrubland/bare ground and large area. Former military activity was beneficial for declining open habitat birds by maintaining moderate disturbance levels, which are rarely found elsewhere in current landscapes. Owing to reduction of armed forces across Europe AMTS provide continental-wide network of high-quality sites for bird conservation. Nevertheless, AMTS are subject to pressure from building activities or loss of openness due to overgrowth of forest or scrub plant communities.