Tropical forest fragmentation and isolation: Is community decay a random process?

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading causes of species declines and extinctions in the world. Human altered landscapes often leave fragments of previously continuous habitat, which may be of significant conservation value. We assessed the effects of habitat fragmentation on the taxonomic diversity, community composition, and nestedness of avian communities before and after fragment isolation at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project research site in the Amazon rainforest. Species loss in 10ha and 100ha fragments was significantly different from random taxonomic loss. In addition, after fragment isolation, but not prior to fragmentation, the species in the 10ha fragments were a nested subset of the species in the 100ha fragments. Finally, within the fragments two distinct communities formed, those on the edge of the fragments and those at the interior of the fragments, indicating that edge species did not penetrate the interior portion of the fragments. The controlled isolation of fragments from continuous forest resulted in rapid changes in the taxonomic diversity and species composition where fragment size served as a driver of species assemblages across the landscape. We suggest that future research continue to assess community level adjustments to habitat fragmentation and investigate the drivers behind the non-random loss of taxonomic groups and the nested structure of species composition of smaller fragments into larger ones after habitat fragmentation.

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Global Ecology and Conservation