Habitat Resource Heterogeneity at Multiple Spatial Scales is Key

Let's now zoom out from the specifics of the Peneda case study on macro-moths to a more general view on rewilding landscapes for multiple taxa. In order to do so, it is essential to consider dispersal, not only because it is a fundamental process that bridges across spatial scales (Chave 2013), but also because it allows us to understand the importance of habitat resource heterogeneity. Non-sessile organisms need to move in order to reach their essential habitat resources, needed for the completion of their life-cycle. These varied resources are often spread over spatial and temporal gradients, and are most often patchily distributed, even within continuous vegetation types (Dennis 2010). Since dispersal is costly in terms of energy expenditure and predation risk, organisms hence generally benefit from resource configurations that limit dispersal needs (Vanreusel and Van Dyck 2007). Landscapes characterised by high habitat resource heterogeneity are more likely to provide such resource configurations (Dennis 2010; Vickery and Arlettaz 2012), and hence to provide increased species diversity (Verhulst et al. 2004). However, since there is a vast variety in terms of dispersal capacities and resource use among, and even within taxa, such heterogeneity needs to be provided at multiple spatial scales in order to cater for all. After all, each species/individual is adapted to exploit resources within a spatial range, some more specifically so than others, and this over a whole gradient from extreme widely to extreme narrowly spaced resources. Evidently, the more biotope types within a landscape, the wider the array of resources and thus the more organisms supported. Also, for a given species, large enough quantities of its essential resources need to be present, limiting the minimum patch size below which it will be absent. In general, mobile organisms need larger areas of habitat than less-mobile ones (Pereira et al. 2004). For instance, mobile woodland moth species were not found in small (< 5 ha) wood patches (Slade et al. 2013). As such, the high macro-moth diversity in the forest-dominated landscape of Peneda (see above) can be explained by a combination of (i) sufficiently large woodland patches to cater for the needs of mobile woodland specialists, and (ii) sufficient resource heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales. Indeed, the specific study landscape was not a forest 'monoculture' but consisted of a patchwork of meadows and scrubland of varying size embedded within a dominant forest matrix (Fig. 6.1). This patchwork allows a diverse composition of meadow, scrubland and woodland species.

Habitat heterogeneity is known to strongly influence the abundance and diversity of species within landscapes (Tjørve 2002). For instance, the change of the typically diverse habitat mosaic of extensive farmland towards the spatially and temporally—both at multiple scales—increasingly uniform intensive farmscapes, has been identified as the root cause of the decline in European farmland biodiversity, whether measured at a small or large scale (Benton et al. 2003). Likewise, we believe that rewilding exercises need to pay attention that sufficient heterogeneity remains during the whole rewilding process. For example, whilst bird species typical of extensive farmland disappear when landscapes become too open due to intensification, they may at the other extreme also disappear from areas where forest recovery removes all open areas (Vickery and Arlettaz 2012). Rewilding projects should hence monitor heterogeneity and intervene with conservation management when necessary (Controlled Rewilding: see above). Because the intense defaunation (especially of large mammals) since the Pleistocene has lead to a decreased environmental heterogeneity in remaining ecosystems (Corlett 2013), and since current rewilding exercises are not continent-wide but region-wide at best, it should be clear that hands-off restoration processes may not be sufficient to reach desirable biodiversity outcomes, and that Controlled Rewilding is more advisable.

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