Vegetation management shapes arthropod and bird communities in an African savanna

Ecol Evol. 2023 Mar 8;13(3):e9880. doi: 10.1002/ece3.9880. eCollection 2023 Mar.


Habitat heterogeneity is a key driver of the diversity and distribution of species. African savannas are experiencing changes in their vegetation structure causing shifts towards increased woody plant cover, which results in vegetation structure homogenization. Given the impact that increasing woody plant cover has on patterns of animal use, resource managers across Africa are implementing habitat management practices that are intended to reduce woody plant cover. To understand the ecological implications of various habitat management practices on arthropod and bird communities, we leveraged large-scale tree clearing and subsequent mowing in an African savanna to understand how changes in both the herbaceous layer and woody plant cover (i.e., structural heterogeneity) may shape arthropod and bird communities at the local scale. We focused on four replicated treatments: (1) annual summer mow, (2) annual winter mow, (3) >5 years since last mow (rest), and (4) an adjacent unmanipulated savanna to act as a control. We found that the mowing treatments significantly influenced vegetation structure both with respect to tree density and herbaceous layer. Both arthropod and bird community composition varied across treatments. Grass biomass was the best predictor of arthropod richness and abundance, with arthropods selecting for areas with high biomass. Insectivorous bird richness and abundance was driven by tree density (i.e., perching locations) and not arthropod abundance. Our results suggest that vegetation management practices contribute to habitat heterogeneity at the landscape scale and increase bird species richness through species turnover. However, we caution that if a single vegetation management practice dominates the landscape, it is plausible that it could lead to the simplification of the avian community.

PMID:36911311 | PMC:PMC9994611 | DOI:10.1002/ece3.9880


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