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A Survey and Overview of Habitat Fragmentation Experiments

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Habitat destruction and fragmentation are the root causes of many conservation problems. We conducted a literature survey and canvassed the ecological community to identify experimental studies of terrestrial habitat fragmentation and to determine whether consistent themes were emerging from these studies. Our survey revealed 20 fragmentation experiments worldwide. Most studies focused on effects of fragmentation on species richness or on the abundance(s) of particular species. Other important themes were the effect of fragmentation in interspecific interactions, the role of corridors and landscape connectivity in individual movements and species richness, and the influences of edge effects on ecosystem services. Our comparisons showed a remarkable lack of consistency in results across studies, especially with regard to species richness and abundance relative to fragment size. Experiments with arthropods showed the best fit with theoretical expectations of greater species richness on larger fragments. Highly mobile taxa such as birds and mammals, early-successional plant species, long-lived species, and generalist predators did not respond in the “expected” manner. Reasons for these discrepancies included edge effects, competitive release in the habitat fragments, and the spatial scale of the experiments. One of the more consistently supported hypotheses was that movement and species richness are positively affected by corridors and connectivity, respectively. Transient effects dominated many systems; for example, crowding of individuals on fragments commonly was observed after fragmentation, followed by a relaxation toward lower abundance in subsequent years. The three long-term studies (14 years) revealed strong patterns that would have been missed in short-term investigations. Our results emphasize the wide range of species-specific responses to fragmentation, the need for elucidation of behavioral mechanisms affecting these responses, and the potential for changing responses to fragmentation over time.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Animal Ecology, 124 Science II, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, U.S.A., 2: Natural History Museum and Center for Biodiversity Research, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, U.S.A.,

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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