Long-term effects of fragmentation and fragment properties on bird species richness in Hawaiian forests

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Forest fragmentation is a common disturbance affecting biological diversity, yet the impacts of fragmentation on many forest processes remain poorly understood. Forest restoration is likely to be more successful when it proceeds with an understanding of how native and exotic vertebrates utilize forest patches of different size. We used a system of forest fragments isolated by volcanic activity 153 years ago in Hawaii to examine how long-term fragmentation, as well as fragment size and structural features affect the richness of native and exotic bird species. The total number of bird species increased rapidly with forest fragment size, with most of the native species pool found in patches < 3 ha. Smaller fragments were dominated by native bird species with several exotic bird species found only in the largest fragments, suggesting that exotic bird species in this landscape show greater area-sensitivity than native species. We used airborne scanning light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to assess whether fragment area was correlated with estimates of fragment vegetation volume as well as measures of tree height. Fragment area was highly correlated with vegetation volume, maximum tree height, and canopy height heterogeneity, and these variables were strong predictors of bird richness, demonstrating that remote sensing can provide key insights into the relationship between fragment structural attributes and biodiversity indicators. Overall, this work demonstrates the value of conserving small remnant mid-elevation forest patches for native birds in Hawaii. This work also provides insight into how newly created forest patches might be used by native and exotic bird species in Hawaii.

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Biological Conservation