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Biodiversity across a Rural Land-Use Gradient

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Abstract:

Private lands in the American West are undergoing a land-use conversion from agriculture to exurban development, although little is known about the ecological consequences of this change. Some nongovernmental organizations are working with ranchers to keep their lands out of development and in ranching, ostensibly because they believe biodiversity is better protected on ranches than on exurban developments. However, there are several assumptions underlying this approach that have not been tested. To better inform conservation efforts, we compared avian, mesopredator, and plant communities across the gradient of intensifying human uses from nature reserves to cattle ranches to exurban developments. We conducted surveys at randomly selected points on each type of land use in one Colorado watershed between May and August of 2000 and 2001. Seven bird species, characterized as human commensals or tree nesters, reached higher densities ( all p < 0.02 ) on exurban developments than on either ranches or reserves. Six bird species, characterized as ground and shrub nesters, reached greater densities ( all p < 0.015 ) on ranches, reserves, or both of these types of land use than on exurban developments. Domestic dogs ( Canis familiaris ) and house cats (  Felis catus ) were encountered almost exclusively on exurban developments, whereas coyotes ( Canis latrans ) were detected more frequently ( p = 0.047 ) on ranchlands than exurban developments. Ranches had plant communities with higher native species richness and lower non-native species richness and cover than did the other types of land use ( all p < 0.10 ). Our results support the notion that ranches are important for protecting biodiversity and suggest that future conservation efforts may require less reliance on reserves and a greater focus on private lands.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Fishery & Wildlife Biology  , Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523–1474, U.S.A. 2: Department of Forest  , Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523–1474, U.S.A. 3: U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service  , Wildlife Habitat Management Institute, Department of Fishery & Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523–1474, U.S.A.

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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