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Countryside elements and the conservation of birds in agricultural environments
- Haslem, Angie, Bennett, Andrew F.
- Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2008 v.125 no.1-4 pp. 191-203
- agroecosystems, wild birds, species diversity, wildlife management, land management, agricultural land, landscapes, habitats, environmental protection, vegetation, forest plantations, pastures, woodlands, Australia
- Throughout the world, many native species inhabit agricultural landscapes. While natural habitats will form the cornerstone of conservation efforts in production-oriented environments, the success of these efforts will be enhanced by a greater understanding of the potential contribution of the increasingly modified countryside ('matrix') elements in these landscapes. Here, we investigate the relative occurrence of birds in some landscape elements (i.e. land-uses, vegetation types) common to agricultural environments around the world. Twenty-seven study mosaics (1kmx1km in size), selected to incorporate variation in the cover of native vegetation and the richness of different landscape elements, were sampled in Gippsland, south-eastern Australia. Birds were surveyed in five main types of elements: native vegetation, linear vegetation, plantation, scattered trees and pasture. The greatest number of species was recorded in native vegetation, the most important element for the majority of birds in Australian agricultural landscapes. Nevertheless, most countryside elements had value for many species; particularly structurally complex elements. Ordination analyses (based on presence/absence data for 81 species) showed that the composition of bird communities differed between elements. The number of mosaics in which 'all species' and 'woodland species' were recorded was positively related to the breadth of elements they used; thus species using a greater number of elements occurred more frequently in the study region. Correlation analyses identified that the richness of woodland species (those of increased conservation concern in Australia) in different elements was influenced by features of the mosaic in which they occurred. Notably, the richness of woodland bird species recorded in scattered trees and pasture increased with local native vegetation cover. Key implications for conservation in Australian agricultural environments include: (1) native vegetation is vital for the persistence of birds in these landscapes, and thus is the primary element on which conservation efforts in agricultural landscapes depend; (2) countryside elements can enhance the conservation value of agricultural landscapes by (a) increasing structural complexity in largely cleared areas and (b) increasing the heterogeneity of the entire landscape; and (3) patches of different elements cannot be managed in isolation from their surroundings, as landscape properties affect the richness of bird assemblages in different elements.