High semi-natural vegetation cover and heterogeneity of field sizes promote bird Beta-diversity at larger scales in Ethiopian Highlands.

Published online
02 Aug 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Marcacci, G. & Gremion, J. & Mazenauer, J. & Tolera Sori & Fanuel Kebede & Mihret Ewnetu & Christe, P. & Arlettaz, R. & Jacot, A.
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Publication language
Africa South of Sahara & Ethiopia


The intensification of farming practices exerts detrimental effects on biodiversity. Most research has focused on declines in species richness at local scales (alpha-diversity) although species loss is exacerbated by biotic homogenization that operates at larger scales (i.e. affecting beta-diversity). The majority of studies have been conducted in temperate, industrialized countries while tropical areas remain poorly studied. Agricultural landscapes of sub-Saharan Africa are still largely dominated by small-scale subsistence farming, but strenuous efforts to intensify farming practices are currently spreading to meet a growing food demand. It is therefore crucial to understand how these intensified practices affect biodiversity to mitigate their negative impacts. We investigated how farming system (small- vs. large-scale farming) and landscape complexity (semi-natural vegetation cover) drive bird species composition, community turnover and beta-diversity patterns in Ethiopian Highlands' agroecosystems. We evaluated the following hypotheses: (1) large-scale farming homogenizes bird communities, (2) community turnover is higher in small-scale farms, (3) interactive effects between landscape complexity and farming systems shape avian communities and (4) heterogeneity of field sizes increases community turnover at larger scales. Bird communities underwent greater compositional changes along the landscape complexity than along the agricultural intensity gradient. Contrary to our expectations, beta-diversity was not significantly lower within large-scale farms (no biotic homogenization), and complex landscapes that still offer a high amount of semi-natural vegetation promoted community turnover in both farming systems. Semi-natural vegetation cover mediated how avian communities responded to agricultural intensification: the compositional differences between small- and large-scale farms increased with vegetation cover, further promoting avian community heterogeneity at the landscape level. The heterogeneity in field sizes also enhanced bird community turnover, suggesting that a combination of both small- and large-scale farming systems within a given landscape unit would promote beta-diversity at larger scales, provided large-scale farms do not become dominant. Synthesis and applications. Landscape complexity shaped avian communities to a stronger degree than farming intensity, emphasizing the importance of semi-natural vegetation and landscape heterogeneity for the maintenance of diverse bird communities and for achieving multifunctional landscapes promoting biodiversity and associated ecosystem services on the High Ethiopian plateaus.

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