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The effects of the number, size and isolation of patches along a gradient of native vegetation cover: how can we increment habitat availability?

Habitat availability—or how much habitat species can reach at the landscape scale—depends primarily on the percentage of native cover. However, attributes of landscape configuration such as the number, size and isolation of habitat patches may have complementary effects on habitat availability, with implications for the management of landscapes. Here, we determined whether, and at which percentages of native cover, the number, size and isolation of patches contribute for habitat availability. We quantified habitat availability in 325 landscapes spread across the state of Rio de Janeiro, in the Atlantic Forest hotspot, with either high (>50 %), intermediate (50–30 %), low (30–10 %) or very low (<10 %) percentage of native cover, and for six hypothetical species differing in inter-patch dispersal ability. Above 50 % of native cover, the percentage of cover per se was the only determinant of habitat availability, but below 50 % the attributes of landscape configuration also contributed for habitat availability. The number of patches had a negative effect on habitat availability in landscapes with 50–10 % of native cover, whereas patch size had a positive effect in landscapes with <10 % of native cover. The different species generally responded to the same set of landscape attributes, although to different extents, potentially facilitating decision making for conservation. In landscapes with >50 % of native cover, conservation actions are probably sufficient to guarantee habitat availability, whereas in the remaining landscapes additional restoration efforts are needed, especially to reconnect and/or enlarge remaining habitat patches.

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