Mapping community change in modified landscapes

Author: Ewers, R.M., Kapos, V., Coomes, D.A., Lafortezza, R., Didham, R.K.
Date Published: January 2009

Biological Conservation 142 (12)

Habitat loss is not randomly distributed across modified landscapes, yet spatial patterns of habitat cover are not routinely combined with biodiversity data when assessing or predicting the biodiversity impacts of land use change. Here, we convert point observations of more than 28,000 beetles from 851 species into a continuous biodiversity surface representing the similarity of ecological communities relative to that of pristine forest, effectively integrating on-the-ground biodiversity data with remotely sensed land cover data to predict the magnitude of community change in a modified landscape.

We generated biodiversity surfaces for both present-day and pre-human landscapes to map spatial patterns of change in a diverse ecological community to calculate the combined biodiversity impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation that accounts for the exact spatial pattern of deforestation. Our spatially-explicit, landscape-scale index of community change shows how the fine-scale configuration of habitat loss sums across a landscape to determine changes in biodiversity at a larger spatial scale. After accounting for naturally occurring within-forest heterogeneity, we estimate that the conversion of 43% of forest to grassland in a 1300 km2 landscape in New Zealand resulted in a 47% change to the beetle community.