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Scale-Dependent Effects of Habitat Disturbance on Species Richness in Tropical Forests

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Despite growing concern, no consensus has emerged over the effects of habitat modification on species diversity in tropical forests. Even for comparatively well-studied taxa such as Lepidoptera, disturbance has been reported to increase and decrease diversity with approximately equal frequency. Species diversity within landscapes depends on the spatial scale at which communities are sampled, and the effects of disturbance in tropical forests have been studied at a wide range of spatial scales. Yet the question of how disturbance affects diversity at different spatial scales has not been addressed. We reanalyzed data from previous studies to examine the relationship between spatial scale and effects of disturbance on tropical-forest Lepidoptera. Disturbance had opposite effects on diversity at large and small scales: as scale decreased, the probability of a positive effect of disturbance on diversity increased. We also explicitly examined the relationship between spatial scale and the diversity of butterflies in selectively logged and unlogged forest in Maluku Province, Indonesia. Species richness increased with spatial scale in both logged and unlogged forest, but at a significantly faster rate in unlogged forest, whereas species evenness increased with scale in unlogged forest but did not increase with scale in logged forest. These data indicate that the effects of habitat modification on species diversity are heavily scale-dependent. As a result, recorded effects of disturbance were strongly influenced by the spatial scale at which species assemblages were sampled. Future studies need to account for this by explicitly examining the effects of disturbance at a number of different spatial scales. A further problem arises because the relationship between scale and diversity is likely to differ among taxa in relation to mobility. This may explain to some extent why the measured effects of disturbance have differed between relatively mobile and immobile taxa.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for Tropical Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Durham, South Road, DurhamDH1 3LE, United Kingdom

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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