Using conservation value to assess land restoration and management alternatives across a degraded oak savanna landscape.
Managers considering restoration of landscapes often face a fundamental challenge - what should be the habitat composition of the restored landscape? We present a method for evaluating an important conservation trade-off inherent in making that decision. Oak savannas and grasslands were historically widespread across central North America but are now rare. Today, in north-west Indiana, USA, habitats spanning a range of woody vegetation density, from nearly treeless open habitats to forests, occur across the conserved landscape where savannas probably once dominated. To understand the benefits of different potential landscape compositions, we evaluated how different proportions of five habitats - open, savanna, woodland, scrub and forest - might affect the conservation value of the north-west Indiana landscape for birds. Two variables of potential conservation importance were examined: species diversity, a measure of avian community richness, and conservation index, the percentage of a bird species' global population occurring on a hectare of landscape, summed across all bird species present. Higher values of conservation index were associated with higher local densities of globally more rare and more threatened species. Conservation index and species diversity were correlated negatively across hypothetical landscapes composed of different proportions of the five habitats. Therefore, a management trade-off existed between conservation index and species diversity because landscapes that maximized species diversity differed from landscapes that maximized conservation index. A landscape of 50% open, 22% savanna, 15% scrub and 13% forest was predicted to represent a compromise at which conservation index and species diversity reached the same percentage of their maxima. In contrast, the current landscape is dominated by forest. Synthesis and applications. We quantified the trade-off between two potential aspects of a landscape's conservation value for birds - the landscape's ability to promote avian species diversity and the landscape's use by threatened avian species. This quantification allowed us to evaluate the ability of different landscape compositions to achieve preferable trade-off compromises, such as maximizing diversity for a given level of landscape use by threatened species. Managers can use these trade-off results to determine which landscape compositions are associated with particular conservation and management priorities.