Quantifying the ecological values of brigalow regrowth for woodland birds: a hierarchical landscape approach

Michiala Bowen (2009). Quantifying the ecological values of brigalow regrowth for woodland birds: a hierarchical landscape approach PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning & Env Management, The University of Queensland.

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s40706353_PhD_Abstract.pdf Thesis abstract application/pdf 56.91KB 7
s40706353_PhD_totalthesis.pdf Total final thesis application/pdf 7.95MB 31
Author Michiala Bowen
Thesis Title Quantifying the ecological values of brigalow regrowth for woodland birds: a hierarchical landscape approach
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning & Env Management
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-02
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Clive McAlpine
Dr Alan House
Dr Geoffrey Smith
Prof. Stuart Phinn
Total pages 175
Total colour pages 19
Total black and white pages 156
Subjects 05 Environmental Sciences
Abstract/Summary The conversion of native forests to pastures and crops is one of the most extensive causes of deforestation worldwide. Concomitant with agricultural landscape modification are the processes of habitat loss and fragmentation, which are major causes of species’ extinctions, population declines and altered ecosystem functions. However, in many tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions, abandoned agricultural lands are reverting to regrowth or secondary forest, which represents an important opportunity for passive landscape restoration. Regrowth may be particularly important in highly modified landscapes, where the area of mature forest may be insufficient to support viable plant and animal communities without some form of restoration. Some studies of fauna populations in regrowth forest have found recovery of species richness within several decades, although recovery of species composition may take at least 100 years and some species may be permanently lost. While these findings are encouraging, they generally fail to account for the landscape context in which regrowth occurs and focus mainly on tropical forests. The aim of this thesis was to advance the understanding of fauna recovery in regrowth forests on abandoned agricultural land by: i) comparing woodland bird communities in a replicated chronosequence of semi-arid sub-tropical regrowth forests; and ii) quantifying how the ecological values of regrowth habitat vary among stand-, patch- and landscape-levels of ecological organisation. A review of 68 studies of fauna recovery in regrowth forests, revealed that current knowledge is limited by the predominance of studies conducted: in tropical rainforests; with minimal replication of sites; in landscapes within proximity of large tracts of relatively undisturbed mature forests; and with limited consideration of the influence of the spatial context on fauna recovery in regrowth forest. This study makes a significant contribution to understanding fauna recovery in regrowth forests by quantifying the recovery of estimated bird species richness to levels similar to mature forest, within a period of 30-60 years, in highly modified semi-arid agricultural landscapes in sub-tropical Australia. An ordination of the similarity in species composition among forest types also suggested that after 30-60 years regrowth bird communities are more similar to mature brigalow forest than the younger regrowth. This is important for the recovery of brigalow ecosystems, an endangered ecological community where regrowth is currently given minimal protection from further clearing. Comparisons of the importance of habitat attributes using model averaging and hierarchical partitioning of generalised linear models of the species richness of woodland birds showed that bird species richness was positively associated with patch age, and that stand-level factors such as grazing disturbance and the abundance of mistletoes (Amyema spp.) were also important. The spatial context of vegetation patches (size, shape and isolation) was equally important for bird species richness, with more species of woodland dependent, nectar/frugivores and non-ground foraging insectivores occurring in less modified landscape contexts, and the converse for generalist species, ground foraging insectivores and granivores. While a number of woodland dependent bird species known to be in decline in temperate woodlands of southern Australia were absent or rare in regrowth forests, several species (e.g., eastern yellow robin) also occupied regrowth habitats. This finding suggests that these more sensitive species may respond positively to landscape restoration through targeted retention of brigalow regrowth. The landscape-level amount of forest varied in importance among regrowth age classes and bird groups. In general, the amount and number of mature forest patches in the landscape were of lower importance than local attributes. However, the amount of mature forest and old regrowth (> 30 years) in the landscape did have an important positive influence on the number of woodland bird species and species’ abundance; suggesting that regrowth is making an important contribution to landscape recovery in the study area. Mistletoe abundance was strongly dependent on particular species of frugivores for seed dispersal (e.g., mistletoebird, spiny-cheeked honeyeater and painted honeyeater), and varied considerably among three sub-regions of the study area. In general, mistletoe abundance increased in linear patches and more highly modified landscapes but was also dependent on the abundance of seed dispersers and brigalow stand condition. These findings suggest that narrow linear patches in brigalow landscapes can have important conservation values for woodland birds. The study outcomes have important implications for research and management of regrowth vegetation, both within Australia and internationally. From an international perspective, the study highlights the need for greater consideration of the importance of regrowth forest in a landscape context for conserving and restoring fauna communities. From an Australian perspective, the study provides important baseline information for the conservation and management of woodland bird habitat in fragmented brigalow landscapes. Prior to this research, very little was known on the spatial ecology of woodland birds in the region. The study highlights the important conservation values of small and often linear mature brigalow patches for woodland birds and the considerable potential for restoration of habitat for a diverse range of species through the retention of regrowth vegetation. In particular, the research outcomes suggest that targeting the retention of regrowth towards increasing the size and reducing the isolation of mature brigalow forests may be an effective strategy to maximise biodiversity benefits. Brigalow regrowth stands will need to be retained for at least 60 years and probably longer to maintain viable woodland bird communities. For this to happen on a regional-scale, brigalow regrowth needs to be given greater recognition for potential biodiversity benefits either within a legislative framework or by incentive schemes to promote the long term persistence of regrowth habitat within the landscape.
Keyword land abandonment
fauna recovery
woodland birds
agricultural landscape
Habitat Loss
habitat fragmentation
spatial pattern
Acacia harpophylla
Additional Notes Page numbering follows that of the pdf document, not the text numbering within the document. Colour pages: 1, 19, 28, 35-37, 72-73, 86-87, 96-97, 117-119, 138-139, 149, 163, Landscape pages: 35, 48-56, 102, 132, 169, 171-174 Colour and landscape pages: 35

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Created: Wed, 07 Oct 2009, 10:25:37 EST by Ms Michiala Bowen on behalf of Library - Information Access Service