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Isolation determines patterns of species presence in highly fragmented landscapes

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In fragmented landscapes, changes in habitat availability, patch size, shape and isolation may affect survival of local populations. Proposing efficient conservation strategies for such species relies initially on distinguishing the particular effects of those factors. To address these issues, we investigated the occurrence of 3 bird species in fragmented Brazilian Atlantic Forest landscapes. Playback techniques were used to collect presence/absence data of these species inside 80 forest patches, and incidence models were used to infer their occupancy pattern from landscape spatial structure. The relative importance of patch size, shape and surrounding forest cover and isolation was assessed using a model selection approach based on maximum likelihood estimation. The presence of all species was in general positively affected by the amount of surrounding habitat and negatively affected by inter‐patch distances. The joint effects of patch size and the surrounding landscape characteristics were important determinants of occupancy for two species. The third species was affected only by forest cover and mean patch isolation. Our results suggest that local species presence is in general more influenced by the isolation from surrounding forests than by patch size alone. We found evidence that, in highly fragmented landscapes, birds that can not find patches large enough to settle may be able to overcome short distances through the matrix and include several nearby patches within their home‐ranges to complement their resource needs. In these cases, patches must be defined as functionally connected habitat networks rather than mere continuous forest segments. Bird conservation strategies in the Atlantic forest should focus on increasing patch density and connectivity, in order to implement forest networks that reduce the functional isolation between large remnants with remaining core habitat.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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