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Nature vs. Nurture: the Making of the Montado Ecosystem

Paulo Miguel Pereira, University of Évora
Manuela Pires da Fonseca, University of Évora

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Abstract

The southern Iberian Peninsula is dominated by a savannah-like ecosystem, the montado, which is a typically Mediterranean cultural adaptation to generally poor productive areas. Montados are exploited for three main uses: forestry, agriculture, and extensive grazing, in proportions that vary according to local conditions (more or less productive land) and historical circumstances. Because these ecosystems occur over a large geographic area (they occupy some 6 million ha), biodiversity would be expected to vary among montados. However, differences in management practices may also influence species distribution. In this paper, we investigate differences in plant and bird species diversity among 60 montados distributed all across southern Portugal. The environmental variables studied included geographical coordinates, climatological data, soil type, and altitude. We also investigated agro-economic variables that could describe human activities at each site: animal husbandry (breeds, stock density, grazing rotation, etc.), agriculture (fallow rotation frequency, use of fertilizers, etc.), and forestry (cork harvesting, thinning, etc.). Finally, land-use type and metrics were assessed from rectified aerial photographs. Species richness among these two groups was not correlated, sites with high or low numbers of plant species not necessarily having high or low numbers of bird species. However, both plant and bird communities exhibited a similar pattern of species composition and turnover. This pattern was ecologically based, rather than a result of biological similarities between groups: direct gradient analyses and variance partitioning revealed strong correlations between species distribution and spatial gradients, namely longitude and latitude. In trying to distinguish anthropogenic from biophysical processes, we found that both were equally important as drivers of montado biodiversity. Plants and birds exhibited a similar ecological pattern, although environmental conditions were slightly more important in the case of plants, and human activities were slightly more important in the case of birds.

Key words

biodiversity, birds, conservation, ecological concordance, human versus nature, montados, plants
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087