Citation Fuentes‐Montemayor E, Ferryman M, Watts K, Macgregor NA, Hambly N, Brennan S, Coxon R, Langridge H & Park KJ (2020) Small mammal responses to long-term large-scale woodland creation: the influence of local and landscape-level attributes. Ecological Applications, 30 (2), Art. No.: e02028. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2028
Abstract Habitat loss and fragmentation greatly affect biological diversity. Actions to counteract their negative effects include increasing the quality, amount and connectivity of semi-natural habitats at the landscape scale. However, much of the scientific evidence underpinning landscape restoration comes from studies of habitat loss and fragmentation, and it is unclear whether the ecological principles derived from habitat removal investigations are applicable to habitat creation. In addition, the relative importance of local- (e.g. improving habitat quality) vs. landscape-level (e.g. increasing habitat connectivity) actions to restore species is largely unknown, partly because studying species responses over sufficiently large spatial and temporal scales is challenging. We studied small mammal responses to large scale woodland creation spanning 150 years, and assessed the influence of local- and landscape-level characteristics on three small mammal species of varying woodland affinity. Woodland specialists, generalists and grassland specialists were present in woodlands across a range of ages from 10 to 160 years, demonstrating that these species can quickly colonize newly created woodlands. However, we found evidence that woodlands become gradually better over time for some species. The responses of individual species corresponded to their habitat specificity. A grassland specialist (Microtus agrestis) was influenced only by landscape attributes; a woodland generalist (Apodemus sylvaticus) and specialist (Myodes glareolus) were primarily influenced by local habitat attributes, and partially by landscape characteristics. At the local scale, high structural heterogeneity, large amounts of deadwood and a relatively open understory positively influenced woodland species (both generalists and specialists); livestock grazing had strong negative effects on woodland species abundance. Actions to enhance habitat quality at the patch scale focusing on these attributes would benefit these species. Woodland creation in agricultural landscapes is also likely to benefit larger mammals and birds of prey feeding on small mammals and increase ecosystem processes such as seed dispersal.