Habitat Histories

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Science  13 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6151, pp. 1153
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6151.1153-a

The spread of humans around the globe has resulted in the continuing fragmentation of natural habitats. Hence, the science of biodiversity and its conservation increasingly requires an understanding of the dynamics of species persistence in mosaic habitats of varying patch size and history. In an effort to improve predictions of how biodiversity patterns change as humans modify the landscape, Hanski et al. have extended the traditional species/area relationship to include a term in the model to account for fragmentation, showing that the traditional model under-estimates extinction rates in fragmented habitat. Applied to data for bird populations in the heavily fragmented Brazilian Atlantic forest, the extended model gives improved predictions of local extinctions, especially for species that are better adapted to continuous habitats. In a separate development, Ewers et al. have developed an approach that represents the shared history across habitat patches in a similar manner to the way in which phylogenetics represents species relationships. They applied this approach to the biodiversity of forest patches in Brazilian Amazonia and developed a model that uses the history of the formerly connected landscape to predict biodiversity patterns and extinctions in the contemporary fragmented landscape. Their approach provides a mathematical measure of habitat history and facilitates the prediction of the spatial pattern of species that are shared among patches.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110, 12715 (2013); Ecol. Lett. 16, 10.1111/ele.12160 (2013).

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