Indicators of the impact of land use changes using large-scale bird surveys: Land abandonment in a Mediterranean region

Sergi Herrando, Marc Anton, Francesc Sardà-Palomera, Gerard Bota, Richard D. Gregory, Lluís Brotons

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Developing sound indicators of biodiversity impact has been identified as a critical step towards our understanding of how global change components are affecting the environment across the globe. Land abandonment is recognized as a major component of global change in the Mediterranean basin, however, we lack adequate, quantitative, indicators of its impact on biodiversity. An appealing approach to develop biodiversity indicators is the use of large-scale bird monitoring projects, an important source of information that is already available in many countries. In this study we develop a method to quantify the impact of the two main processes associated with land abandonment in the Mediterranean region, namely the abandonment of farmland, which produces a shift from cultivated land to open natural habitats, and the encroachment by vegetation usually associated with reductions in livestock grazing and wood harvesting practices. We used data from bird atlas and monitoring schemes in Catalonia (north-east Iberian Peninsula) to characterize species' population response to these processes by means of detecting quantitative changes in relative abundances along a gradient ranging from habitats not affected by a given driving force to those that arise as a consequence of such force. We then generated multi-species indicators of the impact of these land use changes using these specific population responses to calibrate the relative contribution of each species in the composite index. The temporal patterns depicted by the two indicators in the period 2002-2011 show that vegetation encroachment did have a significant impact on bird communities, whereas any noticeable effect of farmland abandonment on bird populations was observed. The methodology proposed here could be employed to develop indicators capable to track biological impacts of land use change on an annual basis and inform decision-makers about the rate of increase or decrease on wildlife populations. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-244
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Bioindicators
  • Bird monitoring
  • Composite indices
  • Land abandonment
  • Population trend


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