Centrality in species-habitat networks reveals the importance of habitat quality for high-Andean birds in Polylepis woodlands
Published: Volume 67.2, July 2020. Pages 307-324.
Habitat loss and landscape fragmentation are important drivers of changes in biodiversity. In fragmented landscapes, bird species are able to use multiple forest patches that may therefore share an important portion of the regional biodiversity. In turn, these patches are linked through their shared bird diversity (i.e. species-habitat networks). Identifying the importance of nodes (e.g. forest patches) in species-habitat networks is increasingly important to improve conservation planning. Within this network approach, the relative importance of patches for birds can be identified via centrality indices-measures of the magnitude of shared bird diversity of patches across the entire network (i.e. patch centrality). Here, we tested for changes in patch centrality within bird species-patch networks of two habitat guilds, forest specialists and generalists, in relation to patch area, patch shape irregularity and within-patch habitat characteristics across 15 Polylepis woodland patches in a páramo landscape of southern Ecuador. Patch centrality for forest specialists decreased with greater influence of surrounding páramo plants, i.e. an increasing proportion of bunch-grasses and small shrubs, in the within-patch habitat and was unaffected by either patch area or patch shape irregularity. On the other hand, patch centrality for generalists was positively influenced by patch shape irregularity but was unaffected by patch area or the influence of surrounding páramo plants in the within-patch habitat. Patch centrality reveals that the relative importance of Polylepis woodlands lies in their habitat quality. Forest specialists are dependent on mature Polylepis woodland patches, while generalists benefit from the natural irregular shape of the woodlands. Finally, a species-habitat network approach facilitates the recognition of important Polylepis patches and their characteristics for conservation of the Andean bird community at a landscape scale.