The biodiversity impact of converting farmland to plantation

The conversion of agricultural land to pine plantations is a major driver of global land-use change. Forest plantations cover an area of the planet approximately equivalent to half the size of the Amazonian rainforest! What is the impact on biodiversity? To address this issue Alessio Mortelliti and David Lindenmayer conducted a unique, large scale (131 sites distributed in a 30,000 hectare area), long-term (16-year) landscape transformation experiment (with treatment and control sites).

The uniqueness of their study is that they investigated what happens to animal populations when the habitat in which they live remains intact but the surrounding matrix changes (ie, a novel environment is created through the conversion of agricultural land to closed plantation forest).

They found that though overall species richness did not change, emerging pine plantations altered communities, favouring smaller birds that move easily through dense vegetation but reducing the presence of larger species. The long-term implications of plantation-generated landscape transformation could be local scale evolutionary changes.

These results suggest that matrix vegetation types can shape selection in such a way that species and communities within native landscape patches are permanently changed.


Mortelliti A & DB Lindenmayer (2015). Effects of landscape transformation on bird colonization and extinction patterns in a large-scale, long-term natural experiment. Conservation Biology

Leave a Reply