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Contrasting effects of mosaic structure on alpha and beta diversity of bird assemblages in a human‐modified landscape

Neilan, Wendy L., Barton, Philip S., McAlpine, Clive A., Wood, Jeffrey T., Lindenmayer, David B.
Ecography 2019 v.42 no.1 pp. 173-186
Eucalyptus, birds, botanical composition, forests, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, indigenous species, landscapes, vegetation cover
Habitat loss and fragmentation are key processes causing biodiversity loss in human‐modified landscapes. Knowledge of these processes has largely been derived from measuring biodiversity at the scale of ‘within‐habitat’ fragments with the surrounding landscape considered as matrix. Yet, the loss of variation in species assemblages ‘among’ habitat fragments (landscape‐scale) may be as important a driver of biodiversity loss as the loss of diversity ‘within’ habitat fragments (local‐scale). We tested the hypothesis that heterogeneity in vegetation cover is important for maintaining alpha and beta diversity in human‐modified landscapes. We surveyed bird assemblages in eighty 300‐m‐long transects nested within twenty 1‐km² vegetation ‘mosaics’, with mosaics assigned to four categories defined by the cover extent and configuration of native eucalypt forest and exotic pine plantation. We examined bird assemblages at two spatial scales: 1) within and among transects, and 2) within and among mosaics. Alpha diversity was the mean species diversity within‐transects or within‐mosaics and beta diversity quantified the effective number of compositionally distinct transects or mosaics. We found that within‐transect alpha diversity was highest in vegetation mosaics defined by continuous eucalypt forest, lowest in mosaics of continuous pine plantation, and at intermediate levels in mosaics containing eucalypt patches in a pine matrix. We found that eucalypt mosaics had lower beta diversity than other mosaic types when ignoring relative abundances, but had similar or higher beta diversity when weighting with species abundances. Mosaics containing both pine and eucalypt forest differed in their bird compositional variation among transects, despite sharing a similar suite of species. This configuration effect at the mosaic scale reflected differences in vegetation composition among transects. Maintaining heterogeneity in vegetation cover could help to maintain variation among bird assemblages across landscapes, thus partially offsetting local‐scale diversity losses due to fragmentation. Critical to this is the retention of remnant native vegetation.