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The challenge of managing multiple species at multiple scales: reptiles in an Australian grazing landscape

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Summary

• Understanding the ecological effects of processes operating at multiple spatial scales on multiple species is a key challenge in ecology. It underpins both basic research and the increasing recognition of scale-dependence in conservation biology.

• Organisms are affected by ecological processes operating at multiple spatial scales. Hence the study of multiple species and spatial scales is a key challenge in ecology.

• A spatially nested experimental design was used to investigate the habitat relationships of reptiles in a grazing landscape in southern New South Wales, Australia. Regression modelling was used to relate the presence of species and species richness to habitat variables.

• Different species were predicted by different habitat variables, and some species reflected habitat structure at one, but not all, spatial scales. The four-fingered skink Carlia tetradactyla was associated with box woodlands, areas with few rocks and many spiders, and areas with a northerly aspect and high tree cover. Boulenger's skink Morethia boulengeri was more likely to be found in areas with many ants and beetles, and also in areas with a northerly aspect and high tree cover. The striped skink Ctenotus robustus and olive legless lizard Delma inornata were significantly more likely to be detected in areas with a simple microhabitat structure. Species richness was highest in box woodlands (Eucalyptus albens and Eucalyptus melliodora) and at sites characterized by a high variability of habitat structure.

• Different habitat variables varied over different spatial scales. For example, invertebrate abundance varied mostly over tens of metres, while grass/forb cover varied mostly over hundreds to thousands of metres.

Synthesis and applications. The multitude of species’ responses and spatial habitat variability highlighted the potential limitations of the fragmentation paradigm because it may oversimplify ecological complexity. On this basis, conservation in variegated grazing landscapes may need to consider changes to livestock management across entire landscapes, rather than concentrate solely on the preservation of particular patches. Journal of Applied Ecology (2004) 41, 32–44
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Keywords: conservation biology; fragmentation; hierarchical experimental design; landscape models; variegated landscapes

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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