Letter | Published:

Predicting biodiversity change and averting collapse in agricultural landscapes

Nature volume 509, pages 213217 (08 May 2014) | Download Citation

This article has been updated

Abstract

The equilibrium theory of island biogeography1 is the basis for estimating extinction rates2 and a pillar of conservation science3,4. The default strategy for conserving biodiversity is the designation of nature reserves, treated as islands in an inhospitable sea of human activity5. Despite the profound influence of islands on conservation theory and practice3,4, their mainland analogues, forest fragments in human-dominated landscapes, consistently defy expected biodiversity patterns based on island biogeography theory6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. Countryside biogeography is an alternative framework, which recognizes that the fate of the world’s wildlife will be decided largely by the hospitality of agricultural or countryside ecosystems12,14,15,16,17. Here we directly test these biogeographic theories by comparing a Neotropical countryside ecosystem with a nearby island ecosystem, and show that each supports similar bat biodiversity in fundamentally different ways. The island ecosystem conforms to island biogeographic predictions of bat species loss, in which the water matrix is not habitat. In contrast, the countryside ecosystem has high species richness and evenness across forest reserves and smaller forest fragments. Relative to forest reserves and fragments, deforested countryside habitat supports a less species-rich, yet equally even, bat assemblage. Moreover, the bat assemblage associated with deforested habitat is compositionally novel because of predictable changes in abundances by many species using human-made habitat. Finally, we perform a global meta-analysis of bat biogeographic studies, spanning more than 700 species. It generalizes our findings, showing that separate biogeographic theories for countryside and island ecosystems are necessary. A theory of countryside biogeography is essential to conservation strategy in the agricultural ecosystems that comprise roughly half of the global land surface and are likely to increase even further14.

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Change history

  • 07 May 2014

    Two reference numbers were incorrect in the Methods section, and have been fixed.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Ehrlich, E. Kalko, F. Oviedo Brenes, R. Zahawi, L. Frishkoff, K. Holl, H. Kim Frank, M. Knope, J. L. Reid, A. Wrona, H. York and dozens of field assistants and Costa Rican landowners, and the communities and staffs of the Organization for Tropical Studies, Las Cruces Biological Station, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. Research was funded by the Winslow Foundation, the Moore Family Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, the German Science Foundation, Peter and Helen Bing, Ralph and Louise Haberfeld, and a Restoration Workshop Research Grant through the Las Cruces Biological Station. C.D.M. and D.S.K. were supported by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Chase D. Mendenhall
    • , Daniel S. Karp
    •  & Gretchen C. Daily
  2. Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Chase D. Mendenhall
    • , Daniel S. Karp
    • , Elizabeth A. Hadly
    •  & Gretchen C. Daily
  3. Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Daniel S. Karp
  4. The Nature Conservancy, Berkeley, California 94705, USA

    • Daniel S. Karp
  5. Institute of Experimental Ecology, University of Ulm, 89069 Ulm, Germany

    • Christoph F. J. Meyer
  6. Centre for Environmental Biology, University of Lisbon, 1749-016 Lisbon, Portugal

    • Christoph F. J. Meyer
  7. Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Gretchen C. Daily
  8. Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, SE-104 05, Sweden

    • Gretchen C. Daily
  9. Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, SE-106 91, Sweden

    • Gretchen C. Daily

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Contributions

C.D.M. and G.C.D. conceived the study. C.D.M. collected data from Costa Rica, performed analyses, and wrote the manuscript. C.F.J.M. collected data from Panama. D.S.K. assisted with key elements of analysis. All authors contributed ideas to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chase D. Mendenhall.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains studies that compare bat assemblages.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13139

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