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Concept: Habitat fragmentation


Whether introduced species invasions pose a major threat to biodiversity is hotly debated. Much of this debate is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced organisms has driven remarkably few plant species to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often found in refugia: patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their nonnative competitors. However, whether the colonization and extinction dynamics of these refugia allow long-term native persistence is uncertain. Of particular concern is the possibility that invasive plants may induce an extinction debt in the native flora, where persistence over the short term masks deterministic extinction trajectories. We examined how invader impacts on landscape structure influence native plant persistence by combining recently developed quantitative techniques for evaluating metapopulation persistence with field measurements of an invaded plant community. We found that European grass invasion of an edaphically heterogeneous California landscape has greatly decreased the likelihood of the persistence of native metapopulations. It does so via two main pathways: (i) decreasing the size of native refugia, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction, and (ii) eroding the dispersal permeability of the matrix between refugia, which reduces their connectivity. Even when native plant extinction is the deterministic outcome of invasion, the time to extinction can be on the order of hundreds of years. We conclude that the relatively short time since invasion in many parts of the world is insufficient to observe the full impact of plant invasions on native biodiversity.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Term, Extinction, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography, Habitat fragmentation


Determining how widespread human-induced changes such as habitat loss, landscape fragmentation, and climate instability affect populations, communities, and ecosystems is one of the most pressing environmental challenges. Critical to this challenge is understanding how these changes are affecting the movement abilities and dispersal trajectories of organisms and what role conservation planning can play in promoting movement among remaining fragments of suitable habitat. Whereas evidence is mounting for how conservation strategies such as corridors impact animal movement, virtually nothing is known for species dispersed by wind, which are often mistakenly assumed to not be limited by dispersal. Here, we combine mechanistic dispersal models, wind measurements, and seed releases in a large-scale experimental landscape to show that habitat corridors affect wind dynamics and seed dispersal by redirecting and bellowing airflow and by increasing the likelihood of seed uplift. Wind direction interacts with landscape orientation to determine when corridors provide connectivity. Our results predict positive impacts of connectivity and patch shape on species richness of wind-dispersed plants, which we empirically illustrate using 12 y of data from our experimental landscapes. We conclude that habitat fragmentation and corridors strongly impact the movement of wind-dispersed species, which has community-level consequences.

Concepts: Habitat, Plant, Habitats, Extinction, Habitat conservation, Landscape, Habitat fragmentation, Habitat destruction


BACKGROUND: Traditional habitat knowledge is an understudied part of traditional knowledge. Though the number of studies increased world-wide in the last decade, this knowledge is still rarely studied in Europe. We document the habitat vocabulary used by Csango people, and determine features they used to name and describe these categories.Study area and methods: Csango people live in Gyimes (Carpathians, Romania). The area is dominated by coniferous forests, hay meadows and pastures. Animal husbandry is the main source of living. Data on the knowledge of habitat preference of 135 salient wild plant species were collected (2908 records, 44 interviewees). Data collected indoors were counterchecked during outdoor interviews and participatory field work. RESULTS: Csangos used a rich and sophisticated vocabulary to name and describe habitat categories. They distinguished altogether at least 142–148 habitat types, and named them by 242 habitat terms. We argue that the method applied and the questions asked (‘what kind of place does species X like?’) helped the often implicit knowledge of habitats to be verbalized more efficiently than usual in an interview. Habitat names were highly lexicalized and most of them were widely shared. The main features were biotic or abiotic, like land-use, dominant plant species, vegetation structure, successional stage, disturbance, soil characteristics, hydrological, and geomorphological features. Csangos often used indicator species (28, mainly herbaceous taxa) in describing habitats of species. To prevent reduction in the quantity and/or quality of hay, unnecessary disturbance of grasslands was avoided by the Csangos. This could explain the high number of habitats (35) distinguished dominantly by the type and severity of disturbance. Based on the spatial scale and topological inclusiveness of habitat categories we distinguished macro-, meso-, and microhabitats. CONCLUSIONS: Csango habitat categories were not organized into a single hierarchy, and the partitioning was multidimensional. Multidimensional description of habitats, made the nuanced characterization of plant species' habitats possible by providing innumerable possibilities to combine the most salient habitat features. We conclude that multidimensionality of landscape partitioning and the number of dimensions applied in a landscape seem to depend on the number of key habitat gradients in the given landscape.

Concepts: Dimension, Space, Domination, Vegetation, Livestock, Cartesian coordinate system, Ecological succession, Habitat fragmentation


Because habitat loss is the main cause of extinction, where and how much society chooses to protect is vital for saving species. The United States is well positioned economically and politically to pursue habitat conservation should it be a societal goal. We assessed the US protected area portfolio with respect to biodiversity in the country. New synthesis maps for terrestrial vertebrates, freshwater fish, and trees permit comparison with protected areas to identify priorities for future conservation investment. Although the total area protected is substantial, its geographic configuration is nearly the opposite of patterns of endemism within the country. Most protected lands are in the West, whereas the vulnerable species are largely in the Southeast. Private land protections are significant, but they are not concentrated where the priorities are. To adequately protect the nation’s unique biodiversity, we recommend specific areas deserving additional protection, some of them including public lands, but many others requiring private investment.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Protection, Habitat conservation, Habitat fragmentation


Urbanisation modifies landscapes at multiple scales, impacting the local climate and changing the extent and quality of natural habitats. These habitat modifications significantly alter species distributions and can result in increased abundance of select species which are able to exploit novel ecosystems. We examined the effect of urbanisation at local and landscape scales on the body size, lipid reserves and ovary weight of Nephila plumipes, an orb weaving spider commonly found in both urban and natural landscapes. Habitat variables at landscape, local and microhabitat scales were integrated to create a series of indexes that quantified the degree of urbanisation at each site. Spider size was negatively associated with vegetation cover at a landscape scale, and positively associated with hard surfaces and anthropogenic disturbance on a local and microhabitat scale. Ovary weight increased in higher socioeconomic areas and was positively associated with hard surfaces and leaf litter at a local scale. The larger size and increased reproductive capacity of N.plumipes in urban areas show that some species benefit from the habitat changes associated with urbanisation. Our results also highlight the importance of incorporating environmental variables from multiple scales when quantifying species responses to landscape modification.

Concepts: Habitat, Urban area, Habitats, Vegetation, Landscape ecology, Natural landscape, Orb-weaver spider, Habitat fragmentation


Hawaiian forest birds serve as an ideal group to explore the extent of climate change impacts on at-risk species. Avian malaria constrains many remaining Hawaiian forest bird species to high elevations where temperatures are too cool for malaria’s life cycle and its principal mosquito vector. The impact of climate change on Hawaiian forest birds has been a recent focus of Hawaiian conservation biology, and has centered on the links between climate and avian malaria. To elucidate the differential impacts of projected climate shifts on species with known varying niches, disease resistance and tolerance, we use a comprehensive database of species sightings, regional climate projections and ensemble distribution models to project distribution shifts for all Hawaiian forest bird species. We illustrate that, under a likely scenario of continued disease-driven distribution limitation, all 10 species with highly reliable models (mostly narrow-ranged, single-island endemics) are expected to lose >50% of their range by 2100. Of those, three are expected to lose all range and three others are expected to lose >90% of their range. Projected range loss was smaller for several of the more widespread species; however improved data and models are necessary to refine future projections. Like other at-risk species, Hawaiian forest birds have specific habitat requirements that limit the possibility of range expansion for most species, as projected expansion is frequently in areas where forest habitat is presently not available (such as recent lava flows). Given the large projected range losses for all species, protecting high elevation forest alone is not an adequate long-term strategy for many species under climate change. We describe the types of additional conservation actions practitioners will likely need to consider, while providing results to help with such considerations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Bird, Climate change, Habitat fragmentation


BACKGROUND: Landscape ethnoecology focuses on the ecological features of the landscape, how the landscape is perceived, and used by people who live in it. Though studying folk classifications of species has a long history, the comparative study of habitat classifications is just beginning. I studied the habitat classification of herders in a Hungarian steppe, and compared it to classifications of botanists and laymen. METHODS: For a quantitative analysis the picture sort method was used. Twenty-three pictures of 7-11 habitat types were sorted by 25 herders. ‘Density’ of pictures along the habitat gradient of the Hortobagy salt steppe was set as equal as possible, but pictures differed in their dominant species, wetness, season, etc. Before sorts, herders were asked to describe pictures to assure proper recognition of habitats. RESULTS: Herders classified the images into three main (and 6 smaller) groups: (1) fertile habitats at the higher parts of the habitat gradient (partos, lit. on the shore); (2) saline habitats (szik, lit. salt or saline place), and (3) meadows and marshes (lapos, lit. flooded) at the lower end of the habitat gradient. Sharpness of delimitation changed along the gradient. Saline habitats were the most isolated from the rest. Botanists identified 6 groups. Laymen grouped habitats in a less coherent way. As opposed to my expectations, botanical classification was not more structured than that done by herders. I expected and found high correspondence between the classifications by herders, botanists and laymen. All tended to recognize similar main groups: wetlands, “good grass” and dry/saline habitats. Two main factors could have been responsible for similar classifications: salient features correlated (e.g. salinity recognizable by herders and botanists but not by laymen correlated with the density of grasslands or height of vegetation recognizable also for laymen), or the same salient features were used as a basis for sorting (wetness, and abiotic stress). CONCLUSIONS: Despite all the difficulties of studying habitat classifications (more implicit, more variable knowledge than knowledge on species), conducting landscape ethnoecological research will inevitably reveal a deeper human understanding of biological organization at a supraspecific level, where natural discontinuities are less sharp than at the species or population level.

Concepts: Biology, Species, Botany, Vegetation, Grassland, Biological classification, Hungary, Habitat fragmentation


Amphibian populations are vanishing worldwide. Declines and extinctions of many populations have been attributed to chytridiomycosis, a disease induced by the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). In Africa, however, changes in amphibian assemblages were typically attributed to habitat change. We conducted a retrospective study utilizing field surveys from 2004-2012 of the anuran faunas on two mountains in western Cameroon, a hotspot of African amphibian diversity. The number of species detected was negatively influenced by year, habitat degradation, and elevation, and we detected a decline of certain species. Because another study in this region revealed an emergence of Bd in 2008, we screened additional recent field-collected samples and also pre-decline preserved museum specimens for the presence of Bd supporting emergence before 2008. When comparing the years before and after Bd detection, we found significantly diminished frog species richness and abundance on both mountains after Bd emergence. Our analyses suggest that this may be the first disease-driven community-level decline in anuran biodiversity in Central Africa. The disappearance of several species known to tolerate habitat degradation, and a trend of stronger declines at higher elevations, are consistent with Bd-induced declines in other regions. Not all species decreased; populations of some species remained constant, and others increased after the emergence of Bd. This variation might be explained by species-specific differences in infection probability. Increased habitat protection and Bd-mitigation strategies are needed for sustaining diverse amphibian communities such as those on Mt. Manengouba, which contains nearly half of Cameroon’s frog diversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Africa, Amphibian, Frog, Central African Republic, Habitat fragmentation, Decline in amphibian populations


Habitat fragmentation and degradation are important biodiversity change drivers worldwide. Their effects have been described for many animal groups, but little is known about marsupials. We conducted a meta-analysis aiming to evaluate the actual effects of habitat fragmentation and degradation on forest marsupials. From a literature survey, we obtained 85 case studies reporting disturbance comparisons. We found a negative overall effect, as well as a negative effect for habitat fragmentation, but not for habitat degradation. Marsupials from Oceania were negatively affected by habitat disturbance, whereas there was no effect for those from South America. Arboreal marsupials were negatively affected, whereas terrestrial marsupials did not. Species from the families Dasyuridae (Antechinus spp.) and Microbiotheriidae (Dromiciops gliroides) showed to be sensitive to habitat disturbance.

Concepts: Effect, Affect, Mammal, Habitats, Marsupial, Habitat fragmentation, Monito del Monte, Microbiotheria


The persistence of natural metapopulations may depend on subpopulations that exist at the edges of species ranges, removed from anthropogenic stress. Mesophotic coral ecosystems (30-150 m) are buffered from disturbance by depth and distance, and are potentially massive reservoirs of coral diversity and fecundity; yet we know little about the reproductive capabilities of their constituent species and the potential for these marginal environments to influence patterns of coral reef persistence. We investigated the reproductive performance of the threatened depth-generalist coral Orbicella faveolata over the extent of its vertical range to assess mesophotic contributions to regional larval pools. Over equal habitat area, mesophotic coral populations were found to produce over an order of magnitude more eggs than nearby shallow populations. Positive changes with depth in both population abundance and polyp fecundity contributed to this discrepancy. Relative larval pool contributions of deeper living corals will likely increase as shallow habitats further degrade due to climate change and local habitat degradation. This is a compelling example of the potential for marginal habitat to be critical to metapopulation persistence as reproductive refugia.

Concepts: Habitat, Demography, Population, Population ecology, Coral, Coral reef, Cnidaria, Habitat fragmentation