A new world for old landscapes: Land-use intensification and bird conservation in a traditional farming landscape

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Traditional farming landscapes harbour high biodiversity worldwide, but are increasingly threatened by agricultural intensification. Here, we aimed to assess the impact of current and potential future land-use intensification on the avifauna in Transylvania, Romania, one of Europe's most notable traditional farming landscapes. We conducted repeated point counts for breeding birds in a randomly selected set of 30 forest, 60 grassland, and 60 arable sites. We first compared the overall bird richness and the richness of birds with different habitat specialization between the three main land-use types. Second, we examined the responses of bird richness to a gradient in woody vegetation cover and compositional heterogeneity in arable land and grassland to indicate changes in land-use intensity. Third, we examined at which spatial scales the effects occurred. All three land-use types contributed to the overall regional bird diversity, including several species of conservation concern. Overall species richness and richness of forest specialists was highest in forests, whereas the opposite was true for farmland birds. Within farmland, richness of forest specialists and farmland birds was most strongly positively affected by woody vegetation cover within one hectare. However, for farmland birds this effect was stronger in arable land compared to grassland. In contrast, woody vegetation cover had a negative effect on the richness of open-country specialists within 50 hectares. Maintaining forest cover in farming landscapes will be important to conserve forest specialists. To conserve farmland species, individual farmers should be encouraged to maintain woody vegetation cover at the local scale. In contrast, open-country specialists would benefit from extensive grassland areas with low cover of woody vegetation. Thus, maintaining bird diversity in traditional farming landscapes requires a combination of small- and large scale conservation approaches. For this to be successful, cooperation among multiple stakeholders is necessary to achieve largerscale conservation action.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere171605
JournalNorth-Western Journal of Zoology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)199-207
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. We thank A. Klein and R. Bigonneau for their tremendous field efforts. We thank the Mihai Eminescu Trust for logistical support. We thank P. Griffiths, J. Knorn and T. Kuemmerle for their help with creating the woody vegetation layer, J. Stein for help with the TWI layer, and D. Abson, P. Fust, and H. von Wehrden for analytical assistance. The project was funded by a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to JF.

Publisher Copyright:
© NWJZ, Oradea, Romania, 2018.

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - Eastern Europe, Farmland birds, Land use change, Landscape heterogeneity, Southern Transylvania