Impacts of clearing, fragmentation and disturbance on the bird fauna of eucalypt savanna woodlands in central Queensland, Australia
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This study reports on the responses of bird assemblages to woodland clearance, fragmentation and habitat disturbance in central Queensland Australia, a region exposed to very high rates of vegetation clearance over the last two to three decades. Many previous studies of clearing impacts have considered situations where there is a very sharp management contrast between uncleared lands and cleared areas: in this situation, the contrast is more muted, because both cleared lands and uncleared savanna woodlands are exposed to cattle grazing, invasion by the exotic grass Cenchrus ciliaris and similar fire management. Bird species richness (at the scale of a 1-ha quadrat) was least in cleared areas (8.1 species), then regrowth areas (14.6 species), then uncleared woodlands (19.9 species). Richness at this scale was unrelated to woodland fragment size, connectivity or habitat condition; but declined significantly with increasing abundance of miners (interspecifically aggressive colonial honeyeaters). At whole of patch scale, richness increased with fragment size and decreased with abundance of miners. This study demonstrates complex responses of individual bird species to a regional management cocktail of disturbance elements. Of 71 individual bird species modelled for woodland fragment sites, the quadrat-level abundance of 40 species was significantly related to at least one variable representing environmental position (across a rainfall gradient), fragment condition, fragment size and/or connectivity. This study suggests that priorities for conservation management include: cessation of broad-scale clearing; increased protection for regrowth (particularly where this may bolster connectivity and/or size of woodland fragments); control of miners; maintenance of fallen woody debris in woodlands; increase in fire frequency; and reduction in the incidence of grazing and exotic pasture grass.