Exploring relationships between land use intensity, habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity to identify and monitor areas of High Nature Value farming

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Abstract

Understanding how species richness is distributed across landscapes and which variables may be used as predictors is important for spatially targeting management interventions. This study uses finely resolved data over a large geographical area to explore relationships between land-use intensity, habitat heterogeneity and species richness of multiple taxa. It aims to identify surrogate landscape metrics, valid for a range of taxa, which can be used to map and monitor High Nature Value farmland (HNV). Results show that variation in species richness is distributed along two axes: land-use intensity and habitat heterogeneity. At low intensity land-use, species rich groups include wetland plants, plant habitat indicators, upland birds and rare invertebrates, whilst richness of other species groups (farmland birds, butterflies, bees) was associated with higher land-use intensity. Habitat heterogeneity (broadleaved woodland connectivity, hedgerows, habitat diversity) was positively related to species richness of many taxa, both generalists (plants, butterflies, bees) and specialists (rare birds, woodland birds, plants, butterflies). The results were used to create maps of HNV farmland. The proportion of semi-natural vegetation is a useful metric for identifying HNV type 1. HNV type 2 (defined as a mosaic of low-intensity habitats and structural elements) is more difficult to predict from surrogate variables, due to complex relationships between biodiversity and habitat heterogeneity and inadequacies of current remotely sensed data. This approach, using fine-scaled field survey data collected at regular intervals, in conjunction with remotely sensed data offers potential for extrapolating modelled results nationally, and importantly, can be used to assess change over time.

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Maskell, L. C., Botham, M., Henrys, P., Jarvis, S., Maxwell, D., Robinson, D. A., … Emmett, B. A. (2019). Exploring relationships between land use intensity, habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity to identify and monitor areas of High Nature Value farming. Biological Conservation, 231, 30–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.12.033

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