Breeding bird species diversity in the Negev: effects of scrub fragmentation by planted forests.
Afforestation of the Northern Negev, Israel, from 1956 resulted in patches of primarily coniferous trees that fragmented large scrubland areas. This alteration in landscape pattern was followed by immigration of mediterranean bird species to the Negev. We counted breeding birds, and measured various environmental variables in scrubland and planted forest patches, to test whether bird assemblages were random subsets of the regional species pool, and whether area or habitat structure was the major correlate with species abundance and distribution. Of 22 bird species recorded, only three appeared in both scrub and forest, showing that these two habitats were occupied by different species assemblages. In both habitats, species richness increased with area at a rate greater than that expected by random sampling. In the scrub this increase was related to area per se, while in the forest it was related to habitat diversity in terms of stand age and tree type. The density of forest species was unaffected by area, but specialist scrubland species declined as area decreased. We suggest that edge effects might reduce species abundance in small scrubland patches. Nested subset analysis indicated that, at the community level, species composition was not random. However, at the species level, the distribution of three forest-dwelling species appeared as random, as it was associated with habitat rather than with patch size. Our results indicate that increased diversity of breeding birds in the Northern Negev will require scrub patches larger than 50 ha among the increasingly forested landscape. In contrast, increasing forest area would hardly increase species diversity in the whole landscape. Future forest management regimes should also aim to increase habitat diversity by adding foliage layers, especially in the understorey. Exotic coniferous forests support fewer species than deciduous forests in mediterranean zones around the world. The suggested management regime may improve such forests as habitat for species-rich bird communities.