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Cropland patchiness strongest agricultural predictor of bird diversity for multiple guilds in landscapes of Ontario, Canada

Frei, Barbara, Bennett, Elena M., Kerr, Jeremy T.
Regional environmental change 2018 v.18 no.7 pp. 2105-2115
biodiversity, birds, cropland, forage, forests, grasslands, habitat destruction, land cover, land use, landscapes, planning, shrublands, wetlands, woodlands, Ontario
The potential for agricultural landscapes to support biodiversity may vary greatly based on agricultural land use. Current knowledge suggests that agricultural composition and intensity are dominant drivers of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, with variable effects of agricultural configuration and landscape diversity. The aim of this study was to determine the relative effects of agricultural composition, intensity, configuration, and landscape diversity on the species diversity of six distinct bird guilds on the landscape scale in a large and complex landscape in Ontario, Canada. We found that agricultural configuration, specifically patchiness of croplands, and to a lesser degree forage lands, was the strongest predictor of bird diversity for three of the six bird guilds considered (forest, shrubland, and town). The effects of increased cropland patchiness were variable, with forest and shrubland bird diversity increasing from small to moderate patchiness, and town bird diversity declining from moderate to high patchiness. Grassland birds, a group of considerable conservation concern, increased near linearly with increased agricultural land cover in the landscape, highlighting the need to consider agricultural lands in conservation planning for this species group. Woodland bird diversity declined significantly with all increasing measures of agricultural intensity, including the proportion of high-intensity agriculture and larger patches of agricultural land. Wetland birds were unique from the other guilds, showing primarily a strong association between diversity of land cover types and guild-level bird diversity. Surprisingly, increased cover of agricultural lands, which we predicted to be a dominant driver of guild-level bird diversity declines due to habitat loss, had weak, non-significant effects relative to the other land use variable being tested, except for the positive association with grassland birds. Our findings suggest that a mix of management strategies should be employed to consider the varying effects of agricultural lands on different bird guilds, such as the inclusion of agricultural land in conservation strategies for grassland species and further managing the configuration of agricultural lands to enhance biodiversity of agricultural landscapes.