Effect of scale on trait predictors of species responses to agriculture

James J. Gilroy, Claudia A. Medina Uribe, Torbjorn Haugaasen, David P. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Species persistence in human-altered landscapes can depend on factors operating at multiple spatial scales. To understand anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, it is useful to examine relationships between species traits and their responses to land-use change. A key knowledge gap concerns whether these relationships vary depending on the scale of response under consideration. We examined how local- and large-scale habitat variables influence the occupancy dynamics of a bird community in cloud forest zones in the Colombian Choco-Andes. Using data collected across a continuum of forest and agriculture, we examined which traits best predict species responses to local variation in farmland and which traits best predict species responses to isolation from contiguous forest. Global range size was a strong predictor of species responses to agriculture at both scales; widespread species were less likely to decline as local habitat cover decreased and as distance from forest increased. Habitat specialization was a strong predictor of species responses only at the local scale. Open-habitat species were particularly likely to increase as pasture increased, but they were relatively insensitive to variation in distance to forest. Foraging plasticity and flocking behavior were strong predictors of species responses to distance from forest, but not their responses to local habitat. Species with lower plasticity in foraging behaviors and obligate flock-following species were more likely to decline as distance from contiguous forest increased. For species exhibiting these latter traits, persistence in tropical landscapes may depend on the protection of larger contiguous blocks of forest, rather than the integration of smaller-scale woodland areas within farmland. Species listed as threatened or near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List were also more likely to decline in response to both local habitat quality and isolation from forest relative to least-concern species, underlining the importance of contiguous forests for threatened taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-472
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • avifauna
  • behavioral plasticity
  • cattle pasture
  • IUCN Red List
  • montane
  • rainforest
  • threatened species
  • especies amenazadas
  • Lista Roja UICN
  • montano
  • pastura de ganado
  • plasticidad del comportamiento
  • selva

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