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Bazzi G.,University of Milan | Foglini C.,University of Milan | Brambilla M.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette | Saino N.,University of Milan | Rubolini D.,University of Milan
Italian Journal of Zoology | Year: 2015

Abstract: Currently, land abandonment constitutes a serious threat for many species tied to semi-natural grasslands. In southern Europe, the conservation of many grassland bird communities largely depends on low-intensity mountain farming. In this study, we analysed the effects of the main farming practices promoting grassland maintenance, i.e. grazing and mowing, on species richness of a Prealpine grassland bird community and on the breeding densities of the two commonest grassland species, the skylark (Alauda arvensis Linnaeus, 1758) and the tree pipit (Anthus trivialis Linnaeus, 1758). The two study sites were located between 1100 and 2000 m above sea level in the Italian central Prealps. Grassland species richness was positively affected by grazing, and increased with increasing distance from the nearest woodland. Skylark density was positively influenced by mowing, grassland cover extent and distance from woodland, with the latter effect occurring only at a single study site. Finally, tree pipit density was positively affected by grazing. Our findings suggest that, in order to maintain open grasslands below the natural treeline and enhance the biodiversity of grassland bird communities, grazing should be preferred over mowing. Moreover, woodland edge effects may have a negative impact on mountain grassland bird communities. Advancing woodlands and abandonment of low-intensity farming and grazing practices may therefore constitute a serious threat for open-habitat specialist bird species of the Alpine region. © 2014, © 2014 Unione Zoologica Italiana.

Brambilla M.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette | Gustin M.,Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli LIPU BirdLife Italia | Vitulano S.,Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli LIPU BirdLife Italia | Falco R.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette | And 4 more authors.
Regional Environmental Change | Year: 2016

Habitat loss and degradation are main global threats to biodiversity, and land-use changes in agriculture-dominated landscapes are crucial for an important portion of biodiversity, especially in Europe. We evaluated the effects of land-use changes (1954–2012) on a threatened species, the ortolan bunting, in an agricultural area crucial for its conservation in Italy. We built a distribution model for ortolan bunting in current landscapes and then re-projected it to past scenarios (1954 and 1999–2000). We evaluated the most important land-use changes occurred and estimated their effects on habitat suitability. Bunting occurrence was mostly affected by the extent of grassland (positively; used as foraging/breeding ground), shrubland (quadratic effect; perches/shelter), forest and urbanized land (negatively), and by solar radiation (positively) and slope (quadratic), consistent with other studies carried out especially in southern Europe. The potential distribution of the species was much larger in the past: the estimated decline in suitable habitat is 44–72 % (since 1999–2000/1954), coherent with historical data suggesting strong decline and contraction. Changes in suitability (1954–2012) were mostly associated with changes in the cover of forest, vineyards and abandoned areas (negatively), and shrubland (positively). Land-use/land-cover changes are the main drivers of species occurrence and of habitat decline. The heterogeneous landscape of hilly/low-mountain sites in this area, characterized by a mix of habitats offering complementary resources to ortolan buntings and other species of conservation concern, is currently threatened by abandonment and intensification, but its maintenance may be promoted by a correct definition of Rural Development Programme measures. © 2016 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

Brambilla M.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette | Falco R.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette | Negri I.,Settore Biodiversita e Aree protette
Animal Conservation | Year: 2012

The intra-seasonal adjustment in site selection, and hence in distribution of multi-brooded avian species, is a poorly investigated topic of potentially high relevance for conservation. This phenomenon may be especially important among multi-brooded species occurring in habitats undergoing large modifications. We used correlative species distribution models to carry out a spatially explicit assessment of variation in habitat suitability between early and late periods of the breeding season for four European farmland passerine species (woodlark Lullula arborea, skylark Alauda arvensis, cirl Emberiza cirlus and corn bunting E. calandra). We counted birds at transects (surveyed in early and late season) in Northern Apennines (Lombardy, Italy), and modelled their spatial distribution with MaxEnt, separately for early and late season periods. A comparison of predicted environmental suitability (ES) at occurrence sites showed significant differences between early and late period ES at both early and late occurrence sites. Three species showed differences in elevation between early and late occurrence sites. The proportion of 1-ha cells predicted as potentially suitable during the entire breeding season ranged from 29.3% (corn bunting) to 52.8% (woodlark) of the at least once suitable cells. In multi-brooded birds, a dynamic pattern of species occurrence may be likely and particularly important in farmland habitats along altitudinal gradients. The resulting within-season switches in habitat and distribution could be widespread among farmland birds and could have critical implications for their conservation. Moreover, such habitat switches provide an additional reason for preserving habitat heterogeneity. The intra-seasonal variation in habitat association/distribution should become a focal topic for researchers. Animal Conservation © 2012 The Zoological Society of London.

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