“In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings”: Woodlands in an agricultural matrix maintain functionality of a wintering bird community

By Biang La Nam Syiem , Varun R. Goswami, Divya Vasudev

Originally published in PLOS| One

Abstract

The agricultural matrix has increasingly been recognized for its potential to supplement Protected Areas (PAs) in biodiversity conservation. This potential is highly contextual, depending on composition and spatial configuration of matrix elements and their mechanistic relationship with biological communities. We investigate the effects of local vegetation structure, and proximity to a PA on the site-use of different guilds in a wintering bird community within the PA, and in wooded land-use types in the surrounding matrix. We used occupancy models to estimate covariate–guild relationships and predict site-use. We also compared species richness (estimated through capture–recapture models) and species naïve site-use between the PA and the matrix to evaluate taxonomic changes. We found that tree cover did not limit the site-use of most guilds of the community, probably due to high canopy cover across all chosen sites. Exceptions to this were guilds comprising generalist species. Shrub cover and bamboo cover had important effects on some woodland-associated guilds, suggesting a change in limiting factors for site-use under adequate tree cover. Site-use across the matrix was high for all analyzed guilds. This was found to be due to three non-exclusive reasons: (i) presence of one or more ubiquitous species (found all across the landscape) within some guilds, (ii) redundancy of species within guilds that buffered against a decrease in site-use, and (iii) turnover in guild composition/abundances to more generalist species from PA to matrix. Estimated species richness was higher in the matrix (107± 11; mean ± SE) than in the PA (90± 7), which may have been in part due to the addition of generalist species in the matrix. Understanding factors that limit biological communities is crucial to better managing the ever-increasing matrix for biodiversity conservation. Our study provides insights into the effects of different components of vegetation structure on the bird community in wooded land-use types in the matrix. We highlight the value of woodlands surrounding PAs in maintaining multiple guilds, and hence, the functionality of a wintering bird community. However, we caution that the matrix may fall short in retaining some specialized species of the community.

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