CIE Spotlight: At the Crossroads – Does the Configuration of Roadside Vegetation Affect Woodland Bird Communities in Rural Landscapes?

Mark H.

Mark H.

Title: At the Crossroads: Does the Configuration of Roadside Vegetation Affect Woodland Bird Communities in Rural Landscapes?

Authors: Mark Hall, Dale Nimmo, Andrew F. Bennett

Source: PLoS ONE 11(5), May 16, 2016

Brief summary of the paper: In agricultural regions worldwide, linear networks of vegetation such as hedges, fencerows and live fences provide habitat for plant and animal species in heavily modified landscapes. In Australia, networks of remnant native vegetation along roadsides are a distinctive feature of many rural landscapes.

Here, we investigated the richness and composition of woodland-dependent bird communities in networks of eucalypt woodland vegetation along roadsides, in an agricultural region in which >80% of native woodland and forest vegetation has been cleared.

We stratified sites in a) cross sections and b) linear strips of roadside vegetation, to test the influence on woodland birds of site location and configuration in the linear network (the ‘intersection effect’). We also examined the influence of tree size at the site, the amount of wooded vegetation surrounding the site, and the abundance of an aggressive native species, the noisy miner Manorina melanocephala.

Birds were surveyed at 26 pairs of sites (cross section or linear strip) on four occasions. A total of 66 species was recorded, including 35 woodland species. The richness of woodland bird species was influenced by site configuration, with more species present at cross sections, particularly those with larger trees (>30 cm diameter). However, the strongest influence on species richness was the relative abundance of the noisy miner. The richness of woodland birds at sites where noisy miners were abundant was ~20% of that where miners were absent.

These results recognise the value of networks of roadside vegetation as habitat for woodland birds in depleted agricultural landscapes; but highlight that this value is not realised for much of this vast vegetation network because of the dominance of the noisy miner.

Nevertheless, roadside vegetation is particularly important where the configuration of networks create nodes that facilitate movement. Globally, the protection, conservation and restoration of such linear networks has an important influence on the persistence of biota within human-dominated landscapes.