Habitat amount and quality, not patch size, determine persistence of a woodland-dependent mammal in an agricultural landscape
The classical theory of island biogeography explains loss of species in fragmented landscapes as an effect of remnant patch size and isolation. Recently this has been challenged by the habitat amount and habitat continuum hypotheses, according to which persistence in modified landscapes is related to total habitat amount rather than habitat configuration or the ability of species to use all habitats to varying degrees. Distinguishing between these theories is essential for effective conservation planning in modified landscapes.
Identify which factors of habitat type, amount and configuration predict the persistence of a keystone woodland specialist, the eastern bettong Bettongia gaimardi, in a fragmented landscape.
In the Midlands region of Tasmania we carried out camera surveys at 62 sites in summer and winter. We included habitat and landscape features to model whether habitat amount or patch size and isolation influenced the presence of the eastern bettong, and to measure effects of habitat quality.
Habitat amount within a 1 km buffer was a better predictor of occupancy than patch size and isolation. Occupancy was also affected by habitat quality, indicated by density of regenerating stems.
Our results support the habitat amount hypothesis as a better predictor of presence. For a species that is able to cross the matrix between remnant patches and utilise multiple patches, the island biogeography concept does not explain habitat use in fragmented landscapes. Our results emphasize the value of small remnant patches for conservation of the eastern bettong, provided those patches are in good condition.
KeywordsFragmentation Habitat amount hypothesis Occupancy Eastern bettong
We thank Greening Austral Tasmania Inc. (GA), Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), Tasmania Land Conservancy (TLC) and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) for helping with appropriate contacts and guidance in selecting sampling sites. In particular, we would like to thank Neil Davidson and Sebastian Burgess (GA) for working closely with us on the ecological restoration project in the Midlands, Matt Appleby (BHA) for his extensive help and knowledge of the Midlands, and Oberon Carter (DPIPWE) for running the GIS-based site selection algorithm. The project was funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Scheme grant (LP130100949). Christopher Johnson was supported on an ARC Australian Professorial Fellowship and Menna Jones on an ARC Future Fellowship (FT100100031). Thanks to the Holsworth Research Endowment for providing crucial funding for covering fieldwork costs. Greatest acknowledgements to PhD students: Rowena Hamer, Glen Bain, and Mauel Ruiz for aiding in fieldwork. Finally. Dr. Peter Gardiner for an outsider’s perspective and to the reviewers and editor for comments contributing to the completion of the manuscript.
RG, MJ, CJ, and RH conceived the ideas and designed methodology. RG and RH collected and analysed the data. RG, CJ and MJ wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final approval for publication.
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