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The role of churches in maintaining bird diversity: A case study from southern Poland

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Skórka, P 
Żmihorski, M 
Grzędzicka, E 
Martyka, R 
Sutherland, WJ 


© 2018 Elsevier Ltd With the human population increasing there have been losses in biodiversity. A common feature of mankind is religious beliefs with various associated positive and negative consequences for biodiversity. Religion also has associated religious sites, many of which have a long history. The role of churches in benefitting biodiversity has not received attention. To examine the impact of churches we measured the taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional diversity of birds around Christian churches and compared this with matched farmsteads. We surveyed 101 churches and equal number of farmsteads in villages of southern Poland. We measured structural and compositional characteristics (e.g. number of trees, shrubs, number of buildings and height) at both churches and farmsteads. General additive models, ordination and rarefactions methods were used in data analysis. Species richness, abundance and phylogenetic diversity were each higher at churches than at farmsteads. The species composition differed between building types but functional diversity was similar at both types of buildings. Bird species richness and abundance were correlated with the church's age. Previous studies showed village farmsteads supported high species diversity, thus our current findings that churches are richer show they may increase bird diversity in studied villages. We suggest that the green surroundings and tall towers create strong environmental gradient that enhances species richness, functional and phylogenetic diversity. There are over ten thousand churches in Poland, and similar places of worship are present in many religions, thus this habitat may be important for sustaining local taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic biodiversity in different global areas.



Christianity, Culture, Ecosystem services, Evolution, Religion

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Biological Conservation

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Elsevier BV