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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Joern Fischer et al., PNAS 107 (2010), Tree decline and the future of Australian farmland biodiversity

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (November 9, 2010; published online before print October 25, 2010), Vol. 107, No. 45, pp. 19597-19602; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008476107

Tree decline and the future of Australian farmland biodiversity

  1. Joern Fischera,b,*
  2. Andre Zergerc
  3. Phil Gibbonsa
  4. Jenny Stotta and
  5. Bradley S. Lawd
+Author Affiliations
  1. aThe Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia;
  2. bDepartment of Sustainability Sciences, Leuphana University Lueneburg, 21335 Lueneburg, Germany;
  3. cCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Sustainable Ecosystems, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia; and
  4. dForest Science Centre, Industry and Investment NSW, Beecroft NSW 2119, Australia
  1. Edited by Harold A. Mooney, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved September 30, 2010 (received for review June 15, 2010)


Farmland biodiversity is greatly enhanced by the presence of trees. However, farmland trees are declining worldwide, including in North America, Central America, and parts of southern Europe. We show that tree decline and its likely consequences are particularly severe in Australia's temperate agricultural zone, which is a threatened ecoregion. Using field data on trees, remotely sensed imagery, and a demographic model for trees, we predict that by 2100, the number of trees on an average farm will contract to two-thirds of its present level. Statistical habitat models suggest that this tree decline will negatively affect many currently common animal species, with predicted declines in birds and bats of up to 50% by 2100. Declines were predicted for 24 of 32 bird species modeled and for all of six bat species modeled. Widespread declines in trees, birds, and bats may lead to a reduction in economically important ecosystem services such as shade provision for livestock and pest control. Moreover, many other species for which we have no empirical data also depend on trees, suggesting that fundamental changes in ecosystem functioning are likely. We conclude that Australia's temperate agricultural zone has crossed a threshold and no longer functions as a self-sustaining woodland ecosystem. A regime shift is occurring, with a woodland system deteriorating into a treeless pasture system. Management options exist to reverse tree decline, but new policy settings are required to encourage their widespread adoption.

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