Landscape pattern project

What happens to wildlife as native vegetation is cleared from rural landscapes? Are we losing particular species? Are some species more sensitive to change than others? How much habitat is needed for wildlife to survive and thrive? Are there thresholds of habitat cover below which there is dramatic change?

These are the key questions addressed in the Landscape Pattern Project, a long-term study of the impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation on native fauna (particularly woodland-dependent birds) in central Victoria. Key findings of the project have been:

  • The amount of habitat in the landscape is the single most important factor driving biodiversity patterns.
  • In landscapes with less than 10% native vegetation cover, the bird community ‘crashes’ as many woodland-dependent bird species are lost from the landscape. However, many species begin to decline when the amount of habitat falls below 30% cover.
  • At a landscape scale, native vegetation should be maintained above 35% cover to maintain healthy populations of woodland-dependent birds.
  • Riparian habitat is critically important for native wildlife – it supports disproportionately more species than non-riparian habitat, and landscapes with more riparian habitat are more resilient to environmental change.
  • The Millennium Drought (2001-2009) triggered a massive decline in the abundance and richness of woodland birds across central Victoria. The bird community partially recovered following several wet years (2010-2011), but it did not return to its “pre-drought” condition.

Project partners

  • Land and Water Australia
  • Australian Research Council
  • Dept of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority
  • North Central Catchment Management Authority
  • North East Catchment Management Authority
  • How much habitat is enough?
  • Radford J.Q., Bennett A.F. and Cheers G.J. (2005) Landscape-level thresholds of habitat cover for woodland-dependent birds. Biological Conservation 124: 317-337.
  • Mac Nally R., Bennett A.F., Thomson J.R., Radford J.Q., Unmack G., Horrocks G. and Vesk P.A. (2009) Collapse of an avifauna: climate change appears to exacerbate habitat loss and degradation. Diversity and Distributions 15: 720-730.
  • Bennett A.F., Nimmo D.G. and Radford J.Q. (2014) Riparian vegetation has disproportionate benefits for landscape-scale conservation of woodland birds in highly modified environments. Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 514-523.