Spatial analysis of habitat quality in a fragmented population of little bustard (Tetrax tetrax): Implications for conservation
Área de conocimiento
Datos de la obra
Biological Conservation, 2007, vol. 137, n,1
Little bustard populations have suffered reduction and isolation as a consequence of landscape transformations resulting from changes in traditional agricultural systems. Consequently, the species survives within reduced and fragmentary habitats, like islands isolated in a modified matrix. In this paper, we analyze the spatial variations in male density and habitat quality in a fragmented population located at the limit of the species’ Iberian range, which is affected by agricultural intensification, using a regional modelling approach. Habitat quality (quantified according to the species perception) and bird density decreased along the intensification gradient. However, in the most intensive agricultural zone, the quality of habitats selected by little bustard males increased, while density decreased, against the expected. In possible explanation, we suggest: (1) density is not necessarily a good indicator of habitat quality, (2) population could be under-saturated in this zone, (3) interannual variations in species distribution, or (4) other relevant variables related to the agricultural intensification process not included in this analysis, such as small-scale disturbances. Analysis of population distribution pattern showed a spatial configuration in which the most densely populated squares were located at the core of the biggest population patches, in contact with mid-density squares, and all surrounded by low-density squares. Fragmentation negatively affected habitat quality and male density. Largest population patches, containing higher density values, were located at the beginning of the intensification gradient. Preservation of little bustard densities is related to an adequate management of the farming system. Habitat fragmentation requires an urgent conservation strategy to prevent local and regional scale habitat deterioration, by reducing patch isolation to maintain genetic diversification and functional connectivity.