The response of small mammals to natural and human-altered edges associated with Afromontane forests of South Africa
An increase in edge area reduces the effective size of habitat fragments and thus the area available for habitat-interior specialists. However, it is unclear how edge effects compare at different ecotones in the same system. We investigated the response of a small mammal community associated with Afromontane forests to edge effects at three different habitat transitions: natural forest to grassland (natural edge, structurally different vegetation types), natural forest to mature plantation (human-altered edge, structurally similar vegetation types) and natural forest to harvested plantation (human-altered edge, structurally different vegetation types). We predicted that edge effects should be less severe at natural ecotones and at similarly structured contiguous vegetation types than human-altered ecotones and differently structured contiguous vegetation types, respectively. We found that forest species seemed to avoid all habitat edges in our study area. Surprisingly, natural edges supported a less diverse small mammal community than human-altered forest edges. However, edge effects were observed deeper into native forests surrounded by mature alien plantations (and more so at harvested plantations) than into native forests surrounded by native grasslands. The net effect of mature plantations was therefore to reduce the functional size of the natural forest by creating a larger edge. We suggest that when plantations are established a buffer zone of natural vegetation be left between natural forests and newly established plantations to mitigate the negative effects of plantation forestry.
Wilson, JOHNW; Stirnemann, REBECCAL; Shaikh, ZARAS; Scantlebury, MICHAEL
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