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Multiple habitat associations: the role of offsite habitat in determining onsite avian density and species richness

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Many animal populations continue to decline despite occurring in protected areas or on sympathetically managed sites. Frequently, this is because a specific habitat patch may not fulfil all the niche requirements of a threatened species. For instance, species often move between, and make use of, multiple habitat types for breeding, roosting and feeding within the same landscape. These cross‐habitat interactions present a challenge for conservation. Here we quantify how the habitat associations of individual species and assemblages occurring within two distinct but adjacent habitat types (moorland and farmland) determine a suite of density and richness indicators, using the bird community of the English uplands as a case study. There was a clear association between onsite avian density and richness and offsite habitat structure (e.g. vegetation height, percent cover of dominant plant species, land management practices). Although such effects are not universal across all species and assemblages, where present (for five farmland and three moorland indicators) the increase in explanatory power offered by including offsite habitat structure can be large. By constructing scenarios of possible changes to management practice on both moorland and farmland, we demonstrate a real conservation benefit can be obtained by altering management in offsite habitats. For example, reducing burning intensity on moorland can result in a five‐fold increase in snipe Gallinago gallinago density on farmland, without an alteration in farmland habitat. For one species (Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata), we demonstrate the frequency with which birds move between and utilise farmland and moorland during the breeding season, and therefore the importance of both habitat types to maintaining population densities. The multiple habitat dependency phenomenon quantified here is common and not restricted to birds. The successful conservation of many threatened species will thus depend on coordinated cross‐habitat management.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Dept of Animal and Plant Sciences, Univ. of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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