Direct and cascading impacts of tropical land-use change on multi-trophic biodiversity


The conversion of tropical rainforest to agricultural systems such as oil palm alters biodiversity across a large range of interacting taxa and trophic levels. Yet, it remains unclear how direct and cascading effects of land-use change simultaneously drive ecological shifts. Combining data from a multi-taxon research initiative in Sumatra, Indonesia, we show that direct and cascading land-use effects alter biomass and species richness of taxa across trophic levels ranging from microorganisms to birds. Tropical land use resulted in increases in biomass and species richness via bottom-up cascading effects, but reductions via direct effects. When considering direct and cascading effects together, land use was found to reduce biomass and species richness, with increasing magnitude at higher trophic levels. Our analyses disentangle the multifaceted effects of land-use change on tropical ecosystems, revealing that biotic interactions on broad taxonomic scales influence the ecological outcome of anthropogenic perturbations to natural ecosystems.

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Fig. 1: How land-use change may directly and indirectly alter whole ecosystems.
Fig. 2: Path model of direct and cascading land-use effects in a tropical multi-trophic system.
Fig. 3: Summary of land-use effects on diversity and biomass of interacting taxa.
Fig. 4: Example of the d-sep procedure used to construct the multilevel path models.


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We thank R. K. Didham, J. S. Powers and C. Scherber for providing helpful comments and suggestions. We acknowledge the village leaders, local landowners, PT REKI and Bukit Duabelas National Park for granting us access and use of their properties, and thank our permit granting bodies, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the Ministry of Forestry (PHKA). We also thank our field and laboratory assistants, the rangers within the protected forest areas for assistance in the field, and D. Gunawan from the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia for climate data. This study was financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the framework of the collaborative German-Indonesian research project EFForTS, the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony within the framework of the BEFmate project, an FCS Swiss Government Scholarship, an Indonesian Directorate General of Higher Education scholarship, and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig funded by the German Research Foundation (FZT 118).

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K.A., A.D.B. and U.B. designed the study; K.A., A.D.B., M.J., K.D., L.H.D., M.M.K., S.K., A.M., K.R., W.E.P. and D.S. collected the data; K.A. and A.D.B. analysed the data; all authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrew D. Barnes.

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Barnes, A.D., Allen, K., Kreft, H. et al. Direct and cascading impacts of tropical land-use change on multi-trophic biodiversity. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1511–1519 (2017).

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