In joint work with the University of the Free State, we study how isolated mountains and rocky outcrops can help to preserve biodiversity. As study region we work in the grassland biome of the Eastern Free State Province in South Africa. In a first paper, now out in Biological Conservation, we present data on the butterflies present in this region.
We found that butterflies in the landscape matrix between the mountains were a nested subset of species from the mountains and outcrops, and there was little evidence that species with certain traits were limited to either habitat. This suggests that species can retreat to mountain refuges during harsh conditions and recolonise the surrounding matrix once conditions improve.
Ecological refuges such as these mountains and rocky outcrops can unify land-sharing and land-sparing because their targeted protection would support the persistence of species throughout wider landscapes.
In a new paper, Falko Buschke tried to test whether vertebrates that differ in conservation status differ in to what extent their ranges can be predicted by spatial and environmental gradients. It turns out there are no strong differences. Instead, models to predict the ranges of the most threatened species perform much worse than models for least concern species. Also, response to broad environmental gradients could not distinguish endangered, threatened or least concern species. This suggests that we may underestimate extinction risk of species if we would try to assess this based on reliance on specific environmental conditions.
The paper is out in Biodiversity & Conservation
I visited the University of Rostock to consult with some of the world’s leading experts on the ecology of isolated mountain habitats known as inselbergs. We’ll be joining forces for a number of future projects combining insights from plants and animals to better understand how these enigmatic landscape features survived through the ages and how their biota interact with the landscape matrix around them.
In a side-project of his PhD Falko Buschke published a new paper in Journal of Nature Conservation on how different decision making strategies affect the exploitation of natural habitat. He shows that taking into account cumulative costs (e.g. earlier developments of an area and associated costs in terms of habitat loss) in different ways (not at all/ higher cost for additional developments / equal-division of costs among early and late developers) will have profound effects on how much habitat will be destroyed in the end. But this is just a start…
Falko explains the story behind the paper and the consequences of his findings in detail on his blog: The Solitary Ecologist