Rural land abandonment is too ephemeral to provide major benefits for biodiversity and climate

Hundreds of millions of hectares of cropland have been abandoned globally since 1950 due to demographic, economic, and environmental changes. This abandonment has been seen as an important opportunity for carbon sequestration and habitat restoration; yet those benefits depend on the persistence of abandonment, which is poorly known. Here, we track abandonment and recultivation at 11 sites across four continents using annual land-cover maps for 1987–2017. We find that abandonment is largely fleeting, lasting on average only 14.22 years (SD = 1.44). At most sites, we project that >50% of abandoned croplands will be recultivated within 30 years, precluding the accumulation of substantial amounts of carbon and biodiversity. Recultivation resulted in 30.84% less abandonment and 35.39% less carbon accumulated by 2017 than expected without recultivation. Unless policy-makers take steps to reduce recultivation or provide incentives for regeneration, abandonment will remain a missed opportunity to reduce biodiversity loss and climate change.

File: Crawford_SciAdv_2022.pdf

Nationwide native forest structure maps for Argentina based on forest inventory data, SAR Sentinel-1 and vegetation metrics from Sentinel-2 imagery

Detailed maps of forest structure attributes are crucial for sustainable forest management, conservation, and forest ecosystem science at the landscape level. Mapping the structure of broad heterogeneous forests is chal lenging, but the integration of extensive field inventory plots with wall-to-wall metrics derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and optical remote sensing offers a potential solution. Our goal was to map forest structure attributes (diameter at breast height, basal area, mean height, dominant height, wood volume and canopy cover) at 30-m resolution across the diverse 463,000 km2 of native forests of Argentina based on SAR Sentinel-1, vegetation metrics from Sentinel-2 and geographic coordinates. We modelled the forest structure attributes based on the latest national forest inventory, generated uncertainty maps, quantified the contribution of the predictors, and compared our height predictions with those from GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics tion) and GFCH (Global Forest Canopy Height). We analyzed 3788 forest inventory plots (1000 m2 each) from Argentina’s Second Native Forest Inventory (2015–2020) to develop predictive random forest regression models. From Sentinel-1, we included both VV (vertical transmitted and received) and VH (vertical transmitted and horizontal received) polarizations and calculated 1st and 2nd order textures within 3 ×3 pixels to match the size of the inventory plots. For Sentinel-2, we derived EVI (enhanced vegetation index), calculated DHIs (dynamic habitat indices (annual cumulative, minimum and variation) and the EVI median, then generated 1st and 2nd order textures within 3 ×3 pixels of these variables. Our models including metrics from Sentinel-1 and 2, plus latitude and longitude predicted forest structure attributes well with root mean square errors (RMSE) ranging from 23.8% to 70.3%. Mean and dominant height models had notably good performance presenting relatively low RMSE (24.5% and 23.8%, respectively). Metrics from VH polarization and longitude were overall the most important predictors, but optimal predictors differed among the different forest structure attributes. Height predictions (r =0.89 and 0.85) outperformed those from GEDI (r =0.81) and the GFCH (r =0.66), suggesting that SAR Sentinel-1, DHIs from Sentinel-2 plus geographic coordinates provide great opportunities to map multiple forest structure attributes for large areas. Based on our models, we generated spatially-explicit maps of multiple forest structure attributes as well as uncertainty maps at 30-m spatial resolution for all Argentina’s native forest areas in support of forest management and conservation planning across the country.

File: Silveira_RSE_2022.pdf

Modeled distribution shifts of North American birds over four decades based on suitable climate alone do not predict observed shifts

As climate change alters the global environment, it is critical to understand the relationship between shifting climate suitability and species distributions. Key questions include whether observed changes in population abundance are aligned with the velocity and direction of shifts predicted by climate suitability models and if the responses are consistent among species with similar ecological traits. We examined the direction and velocity of the observed abundance based distribution centroids compared with the model-predicted bioclimatic distribution centroids of 250 bird species across the United States from 1969 to 2011. We hypothesized that there is a significant positive correlation in both direction and velocity between the observed and the modeled shifts. We then tested five additional hypotheses that predicted differential shifting velocity based on ecological adaptability and climate change exposure. Contrary to our hypotheses, we found large differences between the observed and modeled shifts among all studied bird species and within specific ecological guilds. However, temperate migrants and habitat generalist species tended to have higher velocity of observed shifts than other species. Neotropical migratory and wetland birds also had significantly different observed velocities than their counterparts, which may be due to their climate change exposure. The velocity based on modeled bioclimatic suitability did not exhibit significant differences among most guilds. Boreal forest birds were the only guild with significantly faster modeled-shifts than the other groups, suggesting an elevated conservation risk for high latitude and altitude species. The highly idiosyncratic species responses to climate and the mismatch between shifts in modeled and observed distribution centroids highlight the challenge of predicting species distribution change based solely on climate suitability and the importance of non-climatic factors traits in shaping species distributions.

File: Huang-et-al_2023_Modeled-distribution-shifts-of-NA-birds-over-4-decades_ScienceOfTotalEnv.pdf

Mapping breeding bird species richness at management-relevant resolutions across the United States

Human activities alter ecosystems everywhere, causing rapid biodiversity loss and biotic homogenization. These losses necessitate coordinated conservation actions guided by biodiversity and species distribution spatial data that cover large areas yet have fine-enough resolution to be management-relevant (i.e., ≤5 km). However, most biodiversity products are too coarse for management or are only available for small areas. Furthermore, many maps generated for biodiversity assessment and conservation do not explicitly quantify the inherent tradeoff between resolution and accuracy when predicting biodiversity patterns. Our goals were to generate predictive models of overall breeding bird species richness and species richness of different guilds based on nine functional or life-history-based traits across the conterminous United States at three resolutions (0.5, 2.5, and 5 km) and quantify the tradeoff between resolution and accuracy and, hence, relevance for management of the resulting biodiversity maps. We summarized 18 years of North American Breeding Bird Survey data (1992–2019) and modeled species richness using random forests, including 66 predictor variables (describing climate, vegetation, geomorphology, and anthropogenic conditions), 20 of which we newly derived. Among the three spatial resolutions, the percentage variance explained ranged from 27% to 60% (median = 54%; mean = 57%) for overall species richness and 12% to 87% (median = 61%; mean = 58%) for our different guilds. Overall species richness and guild-specific species richness were best explained at 5-km resolution using ~24 predictor variables based on percentage variance explained, symmetric mean absolute percentage error, and root mean square error values. However, our 2.5-km-resolution maps were almost as accurate and provided more spatially detailed information, which is why we recommend them for most management applications. Our results represent the first consistent, occurrence-based, and nationwide maps of breeding bird richness with a thorough accuracy assessment that are also spatially detailed enough to inform local management decisions. More broadly, our findings highlight the importance of explicitly considering tradeoffs between resolution and accuracy to create management-relevant biodiversity products for large areas.

File: Carroll_et_al-2022_Mapping_breeding.pdf

Forest phenoclusters for Argentina based on vegetation phenology and climate

Forest biodiversity conservation and species distribution modeling greatly benefit from broad-scale forest maps depicting tree species or forest types rather than just presence and absence of forest, or coarse classifications. Ideally, such maps would stem from satellite image classification based on abundant field data for both model training and accuracy assessments, but such field data do not exist in many parts of the globe. However, different forest types and tree species differ in their vegetation phenology, offering an opportunity to map and characterize forests based on the seasonal dynamic of vegetation indices and auxiliary data. Our goal was to map and characterize forests based on both land surface phenology and climate patterns, defined here as forest phenoclusters. We applied our methodology in Argentina (2.8 million km2), which has a wide variety of forests, from rainforests to cold-temperate forests. We calculated phenology measures after fitting a harmonic curve of the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) time series derived from 30-m Sentinel 2 and Landsat 8 data from 2018–2019. For climate, we calculated land surface temperature (LST) from Band 10 of the thermal infrared sensor (TIRS) of Landsat 8, and precipitation from Worldclim (BIO12). We performed stratified X-means cluster classifications followed by hierarchical clustering. The resulting clusters separated well into 54 forest phenoclusters with unique combinations of vegetation phenology and climate characteristics. The EVI 90th percentile was more important than our climate and other phenology measures in providing separability among different forest phenoclusters. Our results highlight the potential of combining remotely sensed phenology measures and climate data to improve broad-scale forest mapping for different management and conservation goals, capturing functional rather than structural or compositional characteristics between and within tree species. Our approach results in classifications that go beyond simple forest–nonforest in areas where the lack of detailed ecological field data precludes tree species–level classifications, yet conservation needs are high. Our map of forest phenoclusters is a valuable tool for the assessment of natural resources, and the management of the environment at scales relevant for conservation actions.

File: Silveira-Ecological-Applications-2022-Silveira-Forest-phenoclusters-for-Argentina-based-on-vegetation-phenology-and-climate.pdf

Failed despots and the equitable distribution of fitness in a subsidized species

Territorial species are often predicted to adhere to an ideal despotic distribution and under-match local food resources, meaning that individuals in high-quality habitat achieve higher fitness than those in low-quality habitat. However, conditions such as high density, territory compression, and frequent territorial disputes in high-quality habitat are expected to cause habitat quality to decline as population density increases and, instead, promote resource matching. We studied a highly human-subsidized and under-matched population of Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) to determine how under-matching is maintained despite high densities, compressed territories, and frequent agonistic behaviors, which should promote resource matching. We examined the distribution of fitness among individuals in high-quality, subsidized habitat, by categorizing jays into dominance classes and characterizing individual consumption of human food, body condition, fecundity, and core area size and spatial distribution. Individuals of all dominance classes consumed similar amounts of human food and had similar body condition and fecundity. However, the most dominant individuals maintained smaller core areas that had greater overlap with subsidized habitat than those of subordinates. Thus, we found that (1) jays attain high densities in subsidized areas because dominant individuals do not exclude subordinates from human food subsidies and (2) jay densities do not reach the level necessary to facilitate resource matching because dominant individuals monopolize space in subsidized areas. Our results suggest that human-modified landscapes may decouple dominance from fitness and that incomplete exclusion of subordinates may be a common mechanism underpinning high densities and creating source populations of synanthropic species in subsidized environments.

File: Brunk-et-al_2022_Failed-despots-and-the-aquitable-distribution-of-fitness-in-a-subsidized-species.pdf

Kirtland’s Warbler breeding productivity and habitat use in red pine-dominated habitat in Wisconsin, USA

During the breeding season, Kirtland’s Warblers (Setophaga kirtlandii) are strongly associated with young jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests in northern Lower Michigan, USA. Since 2007, the species has been breeding in unusual habitat, red pine (Pinus resinosa) dominated plantations, in central Wisconsin, USA. Kirtland’s Warbler productivity and habitat use in red pine is not well understood, and the central Wisconsin population is at a range edge, a situation often associated with lower productivity. To compare range-edge and range-core populations, we estimated reproductive success and characterized habitat use of Kirtland’s Warblers in central Wisconsin red pine-dominated plantations during 2015–2017 using logistic regression models. We also monitored nests and fledgling success, and estimated nest survival using logistic exposure models. Trees were closer together and herbaceous vegetation was taller and denser within territories than at randomly located points outside of territories. Females selected nest sites with deeper dead ground vegetation and live vegetation that was taller and denser than was available at randomly located points within male territories. Nest success was not strongly influenced by within-patch habitat factors. Nest daily survival rate was 0.97 (95% CI = 0.94–0.98). The average number of young fledged per nest was between 2.5 and 2.8. Nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) was 22.7%. Overall, reproductive success in the peripheral central Wisconsin breeding population of Kirtland’s Warblers that used red pine-dominated plantations was similar to that of Kirtland’s Warblers breeding in typical jack pine habitat in the range core. Young red pine-dominated habitat appears to approximate young jack pine in habitat quality for Kirtland’s Warblers, and this may provide managers some flexibility in habitat maintenance for this conservation-reliant species.

File: ACE-ECO-2021-2009.pdf

Effects of bird species-level environmental preference on landscape-level richness-heterogeneity relationships

The niche-based argument that species are filtered from environments in which they cannot sustain viable populations is the basis of the Richness-Heterogeneity Relationship (RHR). However, the multi-dimensionality of niches suggests that the RHR may take different shapes along different environmental axes, with potential confounding effects if filtering along the axes is not equally strong. Here, we explore how different structural and landscape variables drive the RHR as the accumulative outcome of environmental preferences at the species-level while considering the intercorrelation between heterogeneity levels along three niche axes. We used occurrence data of avifauna from 226 sites situated along a grassland-to-woodland gradient in a Midwestern USA study area. In each site, we quantified horizontal (habitat cover type), vertical (vegetation height structure), and spatial (habitat configuration) heterogeneity and explored the shape of the observed RHR at the landscape scale, as well as the correlations among heterogeneity levels at different axes. We then fitted species distribution models to environmental variables from the three axes separately and compared the stacked probabilities of occurrences of all species to the observed species richness. We found that predictions of richness patterns improved when more than one heterogeneity axis was included in RHR models, and that habitat suitability along different axes is not equally strong. Furthermore, a unimodal RHR along the vegetation height axis, which the species distribution models revealed to be a weak predictor for most species, may arise through intercorrelation with heterogeneity along the two other axes, along which we recorded stronger signals of environmental preference at the species level. Our results emphasize the importance of selecting relevant niche axes in studies of species richness patterns because ultimately, these patterns reflect the various environmental preferences of individual species.

File: Gavish-et-al_2021_Effects-of-bird-species-level-environmental-preferences-on-landscape-level-richness-heterogeneity-relationships.-Basic-and-Applied-Ecology-56-1-13..pdf

Patterns of bird species richness explained by annual variation in remotely sensed Dynamic Habitat Indices

Bird species richness is highly dependent on the amount of energy available in an ecosystem, with more available
energy supporting higher species richness. A good indicator for available energy is Gross Primary Productivity
(GPP), which can be estimated from satellite data.
Our question was how temporal dynamics in GPP affect bird species richness. Specifically, we evaluated the
potential of the Dynamic Habitat Indices (DHIs) derived from MODIS GPP data together with environmental and
climatic variables to explain annual patterns in bird richness across the conterminous United States. By focusing
on annual DHIs, we expand on previous applications of multi-year composite DHIs, and could evaluate lag-effects
between changes in GPP and species richness.
We used 8-day GPP data from 2003 to 2013 to calculate annual DHIs, which capture three aspects of vegetation
productivity: (1) annual cumulative productivity, (2) annual minimum productivity, and (3) annual
seasonality expressed as the coefficient of variation in productivity. For each year from 2003 to 2013, we
calculated total bird species richness and richness within six functional guilds, based on North American
Breeding Bird Survey data.
The DHIs alone explained up to 53% of the variation in annual bird richness within the different guilds
(adjusted deviance-squared D2adj = 0.20–0.52), and up to 75% of the variation (D2adj = 0.28–0.75) when
combined with other environmental and climatic variables. Annual DHIs had the highest explanatory power for
habitat-based guilds, such as grassland (D2adj = 0.67) and woodland breeding species (D2adj = 0.75). We found
some inter-annual variability in the explanatory power of annual DHIs, with a difference of 5–7 percentage
points in explained variation among years in DHI-only models, and 3–7 points for models combining DHI,
environmental and climatic variables. Our results using lagged year models did not deviate substantially from
same-year annual models.
We demonstrate the relevance of annual DHIs for biodiversity science, as effective predictors of temporal
variation in species richness patterns. We suggest that the use of annual DHIs can improve conservation planning,
by conveying the range of patterns of biodiversity response to global changes, over time.

File: Hobi-et-al-2021_BirdSpeciesRichness_DynamicHabIndices_EcolIndicators.pdf

Reducing anthropogenic subsidies can curb density of overabundant predators in protected areas

Protected areas safeguard biodiversity and provide opportunities for human recreation. However, abundant anthropogenic food subsidies associated with human activities in protected areas can lead to high densities of generalist predators, posing a threat to rare species at broad spatial scales. Reducing anthropogenic subsidies could curb populations of overabundant predators, yet the effectiveness of this strategy is unclear. We characterized changes in the foraging ecology, body condition, and demography of a generalist predator, the Steller’s jay, three years after implementation of a multi-faceted management program to reduce anthropogenic subsidies in a protected area in California. Stable isotope analysis revealed that the proportional contribution of anthropogenic foods to jay diets declined from 88% to 47% in response to management. Overlap between jay home ranges decreased after management began, while home range size, body condition, and individual fecundity remained stable. Adult density in subsidized areas decreased markedly from 4.33 (SE: ±0.91) to 0.65 (±0.20) jays/ha after the initiation of management, whereas density in unsubsidized areas that were not expected to be affected by management remained stable (0.70 ± 0.22 pre-management, 0.58 ± 0.38 post-management). Thus, the response of jays to management was density-dependent such that reduced densities facilitated the maintenance of individual body condition and fecundity. Importantly, though, jay population size and collective reproductive output declined substantially. Our study provides evidence that limiting anthropogenic subsidies can successfully reduce generalist predator populations and be part of a strategy to increase compatibility of species protection and human recreation within protected areas.

File: Brunk-et-al-2021_Reducing-anthropogenic-subsidies_Stellers-Jays_Biological-Conservation.pdf