Habitat fragmentation lessons from long-term, large-scale forest experiments

There are several large-scale experimental forests across the globe, both planned and natural. They represent unique opportunities to study the long-term effects of fragmentation, often over several decades. Recent research from these forest landscapes provides key insights into species response to edge effects, patch size, and more.


BDFFP AmazonTropical forest fragments and the BDFFP

The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP) spans 1000 km2 in central Amazonia and has been running for 38 years.  A recent synthesis of results from the past several decades highlights several key findings, such as the prominence of edge effects on forest dynamics and composition.  Forest fragments are highly dynamic over time as a result of the combination of local, landscape, regional, and even global scale drivers.  With so many different species varying widely in their vulnerability to fragmentation, Amazon nature reserves should be large and numerous to ensure long-term viability.


Australian eucalypt forests post fragmentation

The Wog Wog Habitat Fragmentation Experiment (WWHFE) in southeastern Australia is a mix of remnant native Eucalyptus forests and commercial pine plantation.  A recent analysis of 26 years worth of data reveals the temporal nature of fragmentation: the impacts of forest loss and fragmentation were stronger in the first few years after fragmentation than in the two decades following.  Patch area and distance to edge both had an impact on individual trees over short time periods.  However, fragments overall showed a strong resilience to disturbance from the loss of the surrounding forest.


Bird communities in the woodlands of the U.K.

The Woodland Creation and Ecological Networks  (WrEN) project incorporates over 100 woodland sites across the U.K. than vary in age (10-160 years old), size (0.5-30 ha), and extent of surrounding woodland cover.  A recent study on bird communities within these sites found that ecological continuity was important for total species richness, and that generalist species were far more abundant than specialists.  Local, patch-level characteristics were more influential than landscape characteristics, particularly patch area.  Habitat creation efforts should consider both local and landscape-scale factors across time and space to improve functional connectivity.



King AJ, Melbourne BA, Davies KF, Nicholls AO, Austin MP, Tuff KT, Evans MJ, Hardy CM, Cunningham SA. 2018. Spatial and temporal variability of fragmentation effects in a long term, eucalypt forest fragmentation experiment. Landscape Ecology 33(4):609-23.

Laurance WF, Camargo JL, Fearnside PM, Lovejoy TE, Williamson GB, Mesquita RC, Meyer CF, Bobrowiec PE, Laurance SG. 2018. An Amazonian rainforest and its fragments as a laboratory of global change. Biological Reviews 93(1):223-47.

Whytock RC, Fuentes‐Montemayor E, Watts K, Barbosa De Andrade P, Whytock RT, French P, Macgregor NA, Park KJ. 2018. Bird‐community responses to habitat creation in a long‐term, large‐scale natural experiment. Conservation Biology 32(2):345-54.

2018-06-21T20:56:23-04:00 June 21st, 2018|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton
Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of ConservationCorridor.org and a Research Assistant at Michigan State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent over 10 years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.