Bird-community responses to habitat creation in a long-term, large-scale natural experiment

Robin C. Whytock*, Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, Kevin Watts, Patanjaly Barbosa De Andrade, Rory T. Whytock, Paul French, Nicholas A. Macgregor, Kirsty J. Park

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Ecosystem function and resilience are compromised when habitats become fragmented due to land-use change. This has led to national and international conservation strategies aimed at restoring habitat extent and improving functional connectivity (i.e., maintaining dispersal processes). However, biodiversity responses to landscape-scale habitat creation and the relative importance of spatial and temporal scales are poorly understood, and there is disagreement over which conservation strategies should be prioritized. We used 160 years of historic post-agricultural woodland creation as a natural experiment to evaluate biodiversity responses to habitat creation in a landscape context. Birds were surveyed in 101 secondary, broadleaf woodlands aged 10–160 years with ≥80% canopy cover and in landscapes with 0-17% broadleaf woodland cover within 3000 m. We used piecewise structural equation modeling to examine the direct and indirect relationships between bird abundance and diversity, ecological continuity, patch characteristics, and landscape structure and quantified the relative conservation value of local and landscape scales for bird communities. Ecological continuity indirectly affected overall bird abundance and species richness through its effects on stand structure, but had a weaker influence (effect size near 0) on the abundance and diversity of species most closely associated with woodland habitats. This was probably because woodlands were rapidly colonized by woodland generalists in ≤10 years (minimum patch age) but were on average too young (median 50 years) to be colonized by woodland specialists. Local patch characteristics were relatively more important than landscape characteristics for bird communities. Based on our results, biodiversity responses to habitat creation depended on local- and landscape-scale factors that interacted across time and space. We suggest that there is a need for further studies that focus on habitat creation in a landscape context and that knowledge gained from studies of habitat fragmentation and loss should be used to inform habitat creation with caution because the outcomes are not necessarily reciprocal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Early online date8 Nov 2017
Publication statusPrint publication - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • bosque
  • cambio en el uso de suelo
  • conservation planning
  • ecological network
  • forest
  • fragmentación
  • fragmentation
  • land-use change
  • planificación de la conservación
  • red ecológica
  • reforestación
  • reforestation
  • revegetación
  • revegetation


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