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      Beyond the Fragmentation Threshold Hypothesis: Regime Shifts in Biodiversity Across Fragmented Landscapes

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          Abstract

          Ecological systems are vulnerable to irreversible change when key system properties are pushed over thresholds, resulting in the loss of resilience and the precipitation of a regime shift. Perhaps the most important of such properties in human-modified landscapes is the total amount of remnant native vegetation. In a seminal study Andrén proposed the existence of a fragmentation threshold in the total amount of remnant vegetation, below which landscape-scale connectivity is eroded and local species richness and abundance become dependent on patch size. Despite the fact that species patch-area effects have been a mainstay of conservation science there has yet to be a robust empirical evaluation of this hypothesis. Here we present and test a new conceptual model describing the mechanisms and consequences of biodiversity change in fragmented landscapes, identifying the fragmentation threshold as a first step in a positive feedback mechanism that has the capacity to impair ecological resilience, and drive a regime shift in biodiversity. The model considers that local extinction risk is defined by patch size, and immigration rates by landscape vegetation cover, and that the recovery from local species losses depends upon the landscape species pool. Using a unique dataset on the distribution of non-volant small mammals across replicate landscapes in the Atlantic forest of Brazil, we found strong evidence for our model predictions - that patch-area effects are evident only at intermediate levels of total forest cover, where landscape diversity is still high and opportunities for enhancing biodiversity through local management are greatest. Furthermore, high levels of forest loss can push native biota through an extinction filter, and result in the abrupt, landscape-wide loss of forest-specialist taxa, ecological resilience and management effectiveness. The proposed model links hitherto distinct theoretical approaches within a single framework, providing a powerful tool for analysing the potential effectiveness of management interventions.

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          Most cited references 10

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          Is conservation triage just smart decision making?

          Conservation efforts and emergency medicine face comparable problems: how to use scarce resources wisely to conserve valuable assets. In both fields, the process of prioritising actions is known as triage. Although often used implicitly by conservation managers, scientists and policymakers, triage has been misinterpreted as the process of simply deciding which assets (e.g. species, habitats) will not receive investment. As a consequence, triage is sometimes associated with a defeatist conservation ethic. However, triage is no more than the efficient allocation of conservation resources and we risk wasting scarce resources if we do not follow its basic principles.
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            Threshold models in restoration and conservation: a developing framework.

            The recognition that a system can appear resilient to changes in the environment, only to reach a critical threshold of rapid and unexpected change, is spurring work to apply threshold models in conservation and restoration. Here we address the relevance of threshold models to habitat management. Work to date indicates these concepts are highly applicable: human impacts can widen the range of habitats where threshold dynamics occur and shift communities into new states that are difficult to reverse. However, in many applied settings, threshold concepts are being adopted without evaluation of evidence and uncertainty. We suggest a framework for incorporating threshold models that reflects an emphasis on applicability to decision making and management on relatively short timescales and in human-impacted systems.
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              Regime shifts in ecological systems can occur with no warning.

              Predicting regime shifts - drastic changes in dynamic behaviour - is a key challenge in ecology and other fields. Here we show that the class of ecological systems that will exhibit leading indicators of regime shifts is limited, and that there is a set of ecological models and, therefore, also likely to be a class of natural systems for which there will be no forewarning of a regime change. We first describe how nonlinearities in combination with environmental variability lead to model descriptions that will not have smooth potentials, concluding that many ecological systems are described by systems without smooth potentials and thus will not show typical leading indicators of regime shifts. We then illustrate the impact of these general arguments by numerically examining the dynamics of several model ecological systems under slowly changing conditions. Our results offer a cautionary note about the generality of forecasting sudden changes in ecosystems.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1932-6203
                2010
                27 October 2010
                : 5
                : 10
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
                [2 ]Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
                [3 ]Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
                University of Western Ontario, Canada
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: RP JPM. Performed the experiments: RP AdAB. Analyzed the data: RP AdAB TAG PIP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: RP JPM. Wrote the paper: RP AdAB TAG PIP JPM.

                Article
                10-PONE-RA-20547R1
                10.1371/journal.pone.0013666
                2965145
                21060870
                Pardini et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 10
                Categories
                Research Article
                Ecology/Community Ecology and Biodiversity
                Ecology/Conservation and Restoration Ecology
                Ecology/Spatial and Landscape Ecology

                Uncategorized

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