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Tree decline and the future of Australian farmland biodiversity

Joern Fischer, Andre Zerger, Phil Gibbons, Jenny Stott, Bradley S. Law and Harold A. Mooney
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 107, No. 45 (November 9, 2010), pp. 19597-19602
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25748719
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Tree decline and the future of Australian farmland biodiversity
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Abstract

Farmland biodiversity is greatly enhanced by the presence of trees. However, farmland trees are declining worldwide, including in North America, Central America, and parts of southern Europe. We show that tree decline and its likely consequences are particularly severe in Australia’s temperate agricultural zone, which is a threatened ecoregion. Using field data on trees, remotely sensed imagery, and a demographic model for trees, we predict that by 2100, the number of trees on an average farm will contract to two-thirds of its present level. Statistical habitat models suggest that this tree decline will negatively affect many currently common animal species, with predicted declines in birds and bats of up to 50% by 2100. Declines were predicted for 24 of 32 bird species modeled and for all of six bat species modeled. Widespread declines in trees, birds, and bats may lead to a reduction in economically important ecosystem services such as shade provision for livestock and pest control. Moreover, many other species for which we have no empirical data also depend on trees, suggesting that fundamental changes in ecosystem functioning are likely. We conclude that Australia’s temperate agricultural zone has crossed a threshold and no longer functions as a self-sustaining woodland ecosystem. A regime shift is occurring, with a woodland system deteriorating into a treeless pasture system. Management options exist to reverse tree decline, but new policy settings are required to encourage their widespread adoption.

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