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Functional shifts in bird communities from semi-natural oak forests to conifer plantations are not consistent across Europe

Pedley, Scott and Barbaro, Luc and Guilherme, João and Irwin, Sandra and O’Halloran, John and Proença, Vânia and Sullivan, Martin (2019) Functional shifts in bird communities from semi-natural oak forests to conifer plantations are not consistent across Europe. PLoS ONE, 14 (7). e0220115-e0220115. ISSN 1932-6203

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Abstract

While the area of plantation forest increased globally between 2010 and 2015, more than twice the area of natural forests was lost over the same period (6.5 million ha natural forest lost per year versus 3.2 million ha plantation gained per year). Consequently, there is an increasing need to understand how plantation land use affects biodiversity. The relative conservation value of plantation forests is context dependent, being influenced by previous land use, management regimes and landscape composition. What is less well understood, and of importance to conservation management, is the consistency of diversity patterns across regions, and the degree to which useful generalisations can be provided within and among bioregions. Here, we analyse forest birds in Ireland, France and Portugal, representing distinct regions across the Atlantic biogeographic area of Europe. We compared taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity of bird communities among conifer plantations and semi-natural oak forests, and assessed correlations between species traits and forest type across these regions. Although bird composition (assessed with NMDS ordination) differed consistently between plantation and oak forests across all three regions, species richness and Shannon diversity did not show a consistent pattern. In Ireland and France, metrics of taxonomic diversity (richness and Shannon diversity), functional diversity, functional dispersion and phylogenetic diversity were greater in oak forests than plantations. However, in Portugal taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity did not differ significantly between forest types, while functional diversity and dispersion were statistically significantly greater in plantations. No single bird trait-forest type association correlated in a consistent direction across the three study regions. Trait associations for the French bird communities appeared intermediate between those in Ireland and Portugal, and when trait correlations were significant in both Ireland and Portugal, the direction of the correlation was always opposite. The variation in response of bird communities to conifer plantations indicates that care is needed when generalising patterns of community diversity and assembly mechanisms across regions.

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