Relationships between patterns of habitat cover and the historical distribution of the marsh tit, willow tit and lesser spotted woodpecker in Britain

Broughton, Richard K.; Hill, Ross A.; Hinsley, Shelley A.. 2013 Relationships between patterns of habitat cover and the historical distribution of the marsh tit, willow tit and lesser spotted woodpecker in Britain. Ecological Informatics, 14. 25-30.

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Spatial analysis of remotely-sensed land cover data in conjunction with species distribution atlases can reveal large-scale relationships between animal taxa and their habitats. We investigated the historical distribution patterns of three declining woodland birds, the Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris), Willow Tit (Poecile montana) and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor), in relation to a parsimonious landscape metric for describing habitat availability in Britain. Bird distributions were derived from two field-based atlas surveys, conducted in 1968–1972 and 1988–1991, and used to classify areas of the landscape for each species as retained, lost or gained between atlas periods, or unoccupied in both. We used remotely-sensed land cover data from 1990 to compare percentage habitat cover between landscape areas classified by bird occupation, and regional summary data from national woodland inventories to investigate changes in habitat cover and bird distributions. Percentage habitat cover was a sufficient landscape metric to explain the distribution pattern of all three bird species; habitat cover was greatest in areas where each species was retained between atlas surveys, significantly less in areas from which species were lost, and least in areas that remained unoccupied. Reductions in Marsh Tit distribution were less in regions that showed greater increases in habitat cover, but there was no such relationship for other species. Results indicated that spatial studies could be used to infer aspects of the spatial ecology of species where field data is lacking: by comparing distribution patterns with the relatively well-studied Marsh Tit, we found support for the assumption that the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker occupies very large territories in Britain, and provided evidence that the spatial habitat requirements of the Marsh Tit could be used as a proxy for the data-poor Willow Tit. The results showed that the habitat cover required to retain each species in the landscape had increased over time, illustrating how spatial studies can be used to identify priorities for further research and suggest conservation measures for declining species, and these are discussed.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
ISSN: 1574-9541
Additional Keywords: marsh tit, willow tit, lesser spotted woodpecker, landscape, GIS, spatial analysis, bird atlas, habitat cover, Land Cover Map
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 04 Jan 2013 16:37 +0 (UTC)

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