Woodland habitat structures are affected by both agricultural land management and abiotic conditions
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The identification of habitat structures with biologically meaningful links to habitat quality has enabled an increased understanding of wildlife distributions in fragmented landscapes. However, knowledge is lacking of where these structures occur in the landscape.
For a broad-scale agricultural landscape, we investigated how the occurrence and abundance of wildlife habitat structures is related to abiotic conditions and land management practices, and whether this differed between old growth and regrowth woodland.
We used generalised linear mixed models to investigate the distribution of eight habitat structures in the South-West Slopes bioregion of south-eastern Australia.
Only one habitat structure, canopy depth, was related to abiotic conditions alone, whereas only leaf litter cover was related to land management practices only. Each of the other structures (abundance of logs, large trees, hollow-bearing trees, mid-sized trees and dead trees, and amount of native grass cover) was related to a combination and/or interaction of abiotic conditions and land management practices. Old growth woodland had higher log, large tree and hollow-bearing tree abundance, whereas regrowth woodland had higher mid-sized tree and dead tree abundance.
Our findings inform key management prescriptions that can be used to improve conservation efforts so they have strong, quantifiable effects on wildlife habitat in temperate agricultural landscapes. Our case study shows that by understanding how management actions in specific abiotic conditions lead to the increased occurrence or abundance of particular habitat structures, management can be spatially targeted to alternative conservation strategies relevant to the landscape of interest.
KeywordsAgricultural intensification Conservation Habitat loss and fragmentation Patch quality Ecosystem restoration Australia
We thank the Australian Research Council, the Murray Catchment Management Authority and the Caring for Our Country Program for funding for this project. We thank C. MacGregor, L. McBurney, D. Blair and S. Lucas for their important contribution to the collection of the field data, A. Smith for her patient help with R code, J. Newport for her generous assistance with preparing Fig. 3, and I. Stirnemann for her valuable feedback on the manuscript.
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