Disturbances and Diversity

Traditional landscapes in Europe, in particular High Nature Value (HNV) farmland areas, are acknowledged for their high species richness and conservation value (Blondel and Aronson 1999; MacDonald et al. 2000; EEA 2004). Species diversity patterns in traditional landscapes are likely to be different from what would be found in non-modified (primary) landscapes (Blondel and Aronson 1999). When the total number of species is considered, a higher richness of species at the habitat patch scale (i.e., α-diversity) is expected in traditional landscapes due to species being able to use more than one habitat and due to the high density of habitat edges, which facilitates inter-patch movements and therefore leads to a higher species turnover in space and time (Proença and Pereira 2013; Guilherme and Pereira 2013). Note that even with inter-patch movements, each habitat type will support a distinct community of species due to differences in species abundances and due to the existence of strict habitat specialists. As a result, the α-diversity is probably lower in the case of specialist species in traditional mosaics due to the effect of habitat fragmentation and their low tolerance to the conditions found in other habitats (Proença and Pereira 2013). For instance, the diversity of forest species is lower in fragmented forest patches than in an area of similar size in continuous habitat (Proença 2009). Regarding species turnover (i.e., β-diversity), traditional landscapes can have a higher turnover than former undisturbed land (Blondel and Aronson 1999), due to their mosaic structure. However, the soundness of this assumption depends on the scale of the analysis (see Chap. 6). For example, one can predict that the replication of the traditional habitat mosaic across large spatial scales results in a higher similarity of (modified) habitats, which promotes the presence of similar communities across large areas. Finally, the effect of these changes on the total number of species found in the landscape (i.e., γ-diversity) is less straightforward. Indeed, whilst several species suffered declines or even extinctions due to habitat destruction or modification (e.g., bear, auroch), other species benefited from these changes and proliferated in the human-modified habitats (e.g., farmland birds). Moreover, starting in the earliest Neolithic, farmers continually and intentionally introduced new species to European ecosystems (Blondel and Aronson 1999). They also did so unintentionally as a result of species dispersal by animal herds along transhumance routes (e.g. Poschlod et al. 1998). Both of these activities thus increased the regional species pool, though globally richness declined due to extinctions.

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