Matrix quality determines the strength of habitat loss filtering on bird communities at the landscape scale.

Published online
13 Mar 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Souza Leite, M. de & Boesing, A. L. & Metzger, J. P. & Prado, P. I.
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Habitat loss represents a major threat to biodiversity, however, the modulation of its effects by the nonhabitat matrix surrounding habitat patches is still undervalued. The landscape matrix might change community assembly in different ways. For example, low-quality matrices can accentuate environmental filtering by reducing resource availability and/or deteriorating abiotic conditions but they may also excessively limit dispersal of organisms and make communities more prone to ecological drift. To understand how matrix quality modulates the effects of habitat loss, we quantified the relative importance of environmental filter and ecological drift in bird communities across more local (400 m buffer around sampling sites) and broader (2 km focal landscapes) gradients of habitat loss embedded in low- and high-quality matrices. We used a trait-based approach to understand habitat loss filtering effects on occurrences of forest specialist and habitat generalist birds. We found that low-quality matrices, composed mainly of low-productive pasturelands, increased the severity of habitat loss filtering effects for forest specialist birds, but only at the landscape scale. Bird occurrences were in general higher in high-quality matrices, that is, more heterogeneous and with low-contrasting edges, indicating the role of the matrix quality in attenuating species extinction risks at the landscape scale, probably due to mass effect. Moreover, forest specialists presented a strong negative response to habitat loss filtering across different functional traits, while generalists presented a high variability in traits response to habitat loss. Synthesis and applications: We raised evidence in supporting that landscape habitat loss filtering may be relaxed or reinforced depending on the quality of the matrix, evidencing that matrix quality has a strong impact in modulating community assembly processes in fragmented landscapes. In practical terms, it means that improving matrix quality may help in maintaining the high diversity of birds even without any increase in native forest cover.

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