Research Article: Avian Species and Functional Diversity in Agricultural Landscapes: Does Landscape Heterogeneity Matter?

Date Published: January 26, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Myung-Bok Lee, James A. Martin, Andy J Green.


While the positive relationship between avian diversity and habitat heterogeneity is widely accepted, it is primarily based on observed species richness without accounting for imperfect detection. Other facets of diversity such as functional diversity are also rarely explored. We investigated the avian diversity-landscape heterogeneity relationship in agricultural landscapes by considering two aspects of diversity: taxonomic diversity (species richness) estimated from a multi-species dynamic occupancy model, and functional diversity (functional evenness [FEve] and divergence [FDiv]) based on traits of occurring species. We also assessed how agricultural lands enrolled in a conservation program managed on behalf of declining early successional bird species (hereafter CP38 fields, an agri-environment scheme) influenced avian diversity. We analyzed breeding bird data collected at CP38 fields in Mississippi, USA, during 2010–2012, and two principal components of environmental variables: a gradient of heterogeneity (Shannon’s landscape diversity index) and of the amount of CP38 fields (percent cover of CP38 fields; CP38). FEve did not show significant responses to environmental variables, whereas FDiv responded positively to heterogeneity and negatively to CP38. However, most FDiv values did not significantly differ from random expectations along an environmental gradient. When there was a significant difference, FDiv was lower than that expected. Unlike functional diversity, species richness showed a clear pattern. Species richness increased with increasing landscape heterogeneity but decreased with increasing amounts of CP38 fields. Only one species responded negatively to heterogeneity and positively to CP38. Our results suggest that the relationships between avian diversity and landscape heterogeneity may vary depending on the aspect of diversity considered: strong positive effects of heterogeneity on taxonomic diversity, but weakly positive or non-significant effects on functional diversity. Our results also indicate that effectiveness of CP38 in conserving avian diversity, particularly, taxonomic diversity, could be limited without the consideration of landscape heterogeneity.

Partial Text

The relationship between diversity (i.e., biodiversity or species diversity) and habitat heterogeneity, e.g., heterogeneous vegetation structure at the local scale or heterogeneous habitat type at the landscape scale, is one of the most widely studied in ecology. Heterogeneous habitats are assumed to provide more niches or complementary resources and thus increase diversity of animals and plants [1, 2]. Although several recent studies suggest that the relationship can be non-linear [3–5], the positive relationship between diversity and habitat heterogeneity at local and landscape scales is generally accepted, particularly in agricultural landscapes [6–9].

We found that the effect of landscape heterogeneity was strongly positive on taxonomic diversity (species richness) but weakly positive (FDiv) or non-significant (FEve) on functional diversity. While these results partly supported the hypothesis predicting the positive relationship between avian diversity and habitat heterogeneity, they indicated that taxonomic and functional diversity can respond differently to landscape heterogeneity. Negative responses of taxonomic diversity to the amount of CP38 fields suggested a need to consider landscape heterogeneity to enhance the effectiveness of CP38 as a community-level conservation program.

Our study shows that the positive relationship between avian diversity and landscape heterogeneity, which is often assumed in agricultural landscapes, can vary depending on the aspect of diversity explored. While the number of species in a community increases as landscape heterogeneity increases, functional traits of the species newly added to the community may not significantly differ from those of species already present in the community. That is, landscape heterogeneity has a strong positive effect on taxonomic diversity (species richness), whereas its influence on functional diversity can be weakly positive or non-significant. These patterns highlight the importance of considering multiple aspects of diversity to comprehensively understand the relationship between diversity and environmental constraints. Our study also suggests that future implementation of conservation measures in agricultural landscapes should consider the landscape context to assure maximum efficacy and perhaps reduce negative impacts to non-targeted species. Adopting a hierarchical multi-species model can improve inference by providing species-level responses and community-level responses. We emphasize a need for future studies investigating the responses of richness and functional diversity to compositional and configurational heterogeneity at different scales. A model that incorporates detection probability into the calculation of functional diversity indices is needed and may promote accuracy of those indices and subsequent inference.




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