Conservation planning in a fire-prone Mediterranean region: threats and opportunities for bird species

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Valecillo, Sara
Hermoso, Virgilio
Possingham, Hugh P.
Brotons, Lluís
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In response to the processes threatening biodiversity such as habitat loss, effective selection of priority conservation areas is required. However, reserve selection methods usually ignore the drivers of future habitat changes, thus compromising the effectiveness of conservation. In this work, we formulated an approach to explicitly quantify the impact of fire on conservation areas, considering such disturbance as a driver of land-cover changes. The estimated fire impact was integrated as a constraint in the reserve selection process to tackle the likely threats or opportunities that fire disturbance might cause to the targeted species depending on their habitat requirements. In this way, we selected conservation areas in a fire-prone Mediterranean region for two bird assemblages: forest and open-habitat species. Differences in conservation areas selected before and after integrating the impact of fire in the reserve selection process were assessed. Integration of fire impact for forest species moved preferences towards areas that were less prone to burn. However, a larger area was required to achieve the same conservation goals. Conversely, integration of fire impacts for open-habitat species shifted preferences towards conservation areas in locations where the persistence of their required habitat is more likely (i.e. shrublands). In other words, we prioritized the conservation of not only the current distribution of open-habitat birds, but also the disturbance process (i.e. fire) that favours their preferred habitat and distributions in the long term. Finally, this work emphasizes the need to consider the opposing potential impacts of wildfires on species for an effective conservation planning.
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Landscape Ecology, 2013, vol. 28, p. 1517-1528