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Recommendations to enhance breeding bird diversity in managed plantation forests determined using LiDAR.

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Conway, Greg J 
Henderson, Ian G 
Milodowski, David T 
Swinfield, Tom 


Widespread afforestation is a crucial component of climate mitigation strategies worldwide. This presents a significant opportunity for biodiversity conservation if forests are appropriately managed. Within forests, structural and habitat diversity are known to be critical for biodiversity but pragmatic management recommendations are lacking. We make a comprehensive assessment of the effects of habitat variables on bird populations using data from over 4000 ha of forested landscape. We combine high-resolution remote sensing data with comprehensive management databases to classify habitat attributes and measure the response of six taxonomic and functional diversity metrics: species richness, Shannon diversity, functional richness, functional evenness, functional divergence, and functional dispersion. We use a novel approach that combines hierarchical partitioning analysis with linear models to determine the relative importance of different habitat variables for each bird diversity metric. The age class of forest stands was consistently the most important variable across all bird diversity metrics, outperforming other structural measures such as horizontal and vertical heterogeneity and canopy density. Shrub density and gap fraction were each significantly associated with one bird diversity metric. In contrast, variables describing within-stand structural heterogeneity (vertical and horizontal) were generally less important while tree species identity (e.g., conifer or broadleaved) was not significant for any bird diversity metric. Each of the six bird diversity metrics had different patterns of independent variable importance and significance, emphasizing the need to consider multiple diversity metrics in biodiversity assessments. Similarly, the optimal resolution for remote sensing metrics varied between structural variables and bird diversity metrics, suggesting that the use of remote sensing data in biodiversity studies could be greatly improved by first exploring different resolutions and data aggregations. Based on the results from this comprehensive study, we recommend that managers focus on creating habitat diversity at the between-, rather than exclusively within-stand scale, such as by creating a matrix of different age classes, to maximize bird diversity. This recommendation for forest managers is powerful yet pragmatic in its simplicity.


Funder: Arcadia Fund; Id:

Funder: University of Cambridge; Id:

Funder: Forestry England


LiDAR, breeding birds, forest management, forest structure, functional diversity, hierarchical partitioning, remote sensing, species diversity, taxonomic diversity, Animals, Biodiversity, Birds, Ecosystem, Forests, Plant Breeding

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Ecol Appl

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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/K016377/1)
NERC (NE/L002507/1)