Habitat fragmentation has been identified as a major threat to global biodiversity. For example, population declines can occur as a consequence of reduced habitat quality or as a result of diminished genetic diversity where individuals are inhibited from moving between sub-populations. Woodland and forest habitats are particularly vulnerable to fragmentation, and forest cover continues to decline globally as a consequence of agricultural intensification and resource exploitation. As such there is an increasing need to (1) determine how forest dependent species respond to habitat fragmentation using quantitative techniques, and (2) identify cost-effective measures which can be used to increase the value of fragmented habitats for biodiversity.
The spatial and functional relationship between fragmented habitat patches in a landscape can be conceptualised as an ecological network. In fragmented woodlands, this is characterised by spatially distinct core areas with buffer zones (transitions between neighbouring habitats), and smaller linear or patchy sub-units functioning as corridors and stepping stones (Figure 1). For a given taxa, the relative importance of these elements of the ecological network can vary, and may be dependent on the surrounding landscape matrix (non-focal habitat). This can either facilitate or inhibit the movement of individuals between core areas.
As part of the WrEN (Woodland Creation & Ecological Networks) research programme, this project will determine the relative importance of regional and local scale landscape metrics for woodland bird communities within an agricultural matrix. Focusing on broadleaved woodlands of known age in the UK (Figure 2), we will also investigate the temporal relationship between habitat creation and species’ response. Results from this and previous work conducted by WrEN will be used to develop a cost-benefit analysis tool for land managers in the UK. This will aim to inform land management decisions, increasing the likelihood that resources are used efficiently, with long-term benefits for woodland biodiversity.
Other Research Interests
I am broadly interested in the ecology and conservation of forest dependent birds in Europe and West / Central Africa. I manage ongoing research investigating the impact of the bushmeat trade on birds in Cameroon (Figure 3), conducted in collaboration with the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Ebo Forest Research Project. Other research interests include the decline of Afro-Palearctic migrant birds, in particular woodland specialists such as Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix.