Optimising habitat creation for woodland birds: the relative importance of local vs landscape scales - PhDData

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Optimising habitat creation for woodland birds: the relative importance of local vs landscape scales

The thesis was published by Whytock, Robin C, in September 2022, University of Stirling.


Global land-use change and industrialisation has driven biodiversity declines and impaired ecosystem functioning. Recently, there have been large-scale efforts to not only halt habitat loss but create and restore habitat on formerly managed (e.g. agricultural) land. However, although the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on biodiversity are well understood, our understanding of how biodiversity responds to habitat created in a patchy configuration is not. In particular, little is known about the relative importance of local (e.g. patch size) vs landscape scales (e.g. amount of habitat in the landscape) for restoring biodiversity in created habitat. Here, a long-term, large-scale natural experiment (the Woodland Creation and Ecological Networks project) was used to understand how bird species, communities and behaviour respond to woodland created in a patchy configuration on post-agricultural land. I used a combination of direct and indirect survey methods to quantify bird diversity, abundance and vocal behaviour in post-agricultural woodlands of known age in Great Britain. I show that secondary woodlands favour generalist species and older patches contain more individuals and species due to their vegetation structure. In relative terms, local-scale factors such as patch size made the greatest contribution to bird diversity and abundance. Colonisation events drive community assembly in new habitat, and I found that large-scale (km2) habitat patterns were more important than patch-level factors during colonisation of breeding territories by a long distance migrant bird (Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus). Land management practices surrounding a habitat patch can also affect its perceived quality and relative attractiveness to potential colonisers. Using the Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes as a model species, I found that high proportions of agricultural land at woodland edges caused an increase in perceived predation risk. In conclusion, I suggest that post-agricultural woodlands rapidly provide valuable habitat for generalist woodland birds. Local, patch-level factors (area, vegetation structure) also appear relatively more important than landscape factors for woodland bird communities. Land-managers seeking to maximise the benefits of woodland creation for birds should thus focus on creating large patches with a diverse vegetation structure.

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