Removing forest canopy cover restores a reptile assemblage

Pike, David A., Webb, Jonathan K., and Shine, Richard (2011) Removing forest canopy cover restores a reptile assemblage. Ecological Applications, 21 (1). pp. 274-280.

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Abstract

Humans are rapidly altering natural systems, leading to changes in the distribution and abundance of species. However, so many changes are occurring simultaneously (e.g., climate change, habitat fragmentation) that it is difficult to determine the cause of population fluctuations from correlational studies. We used a manipulative field experiment to determine whether forest canopy cover directly influences reptile assemblages on rock outcrops in southeastern Australia. Our experimental design consisted of three types of rock outcrops: (1) shady sites in which overgrown vegetation was manually removed (n = 25); (2) overgrown controls (n = 30); and (3) sun-exposed controls (n = 20). Following canopy removal, we monitored reptile responses over 30 months. Canopy removal increased reptile species richness, the proportion of shelter sites used by reptiles, and relative abundances of five species that prefer sun-exposed habitats. Our manipulation also decreased the abundances of two shade-tolerant species. Canopy cover thus directly influences this reptile assemblage, with the effects of canopy removal being dependent on each species' habitat preferences (i.e., selection or avoidance of sun-exposed habitat). Our study suggests that increases in canopy cover can cause declines of open-habitat specialists, as previously suggested by correlative studies from a wide range of taxa. Given that reptile colonization of manipulated outcrops occurred rapidly, artificially opening the canopy in ecologically informed ways could help to conserve imperiled species with patchy distributions and low vagility that are threatened by vegetation overgrowth. One such species is Australia's most endangered snake, the broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides).

Item ID: 18793
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1939-5582
Keywords: abundance, broad-headed snake, field experiment, fire suppression, habitat quality, habitat use, Hoplocephalus bungaroides, rock outcrop, southeastern Australia, species richness, vegetation overgrowth
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2011 02:48
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060202 Community Ecology (excl Invasive Species Ecology) @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9612 Rehabilitation of Degraded Environments > 961203 Rehabilitation of Degraded Forest and Woodlands Environments @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960906 Forest and Woodlands Land Management @ 50%
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