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In conservation, charismatic mammals and birds such as the black rhinoceros and the capercaillie get a lot of attention, while others, like invertebrates, are often ignored. One way of addressing this problem is to focus on protecting "umbrella species." These are species whose conservation can benefit many others, especially those that rely on similar habitats. But does this work in practice?
We had a unique opportunity to test the idea with one of the largest field experiments in Europe. In a region called Breckland in the East of England, we used a tractor to churn tall grassland into bare, sandy plots for Eurasian stone-curlew, a rare summer visitor. The disturbed soil provides excellent camouflage for stone-curlew nests and chicks, and Breckland holds the majority of the UK's breeding population.
Rabbits - Numbers - Habitat - Numbers - Years
Rabbits used to graze in large numbers to create this habitat for stone-curlews, but numbers have collapsed over the past 50 years due to disease, culling and predation. Without the rabbits, stone-curlew habitat shrinks—and so do the numbers of rare insect and plant species that also thrive in these bare patches of land.
It's hard getting people to care about beetles and seedlings—especially when there are so many different species. But an assessment of the region's biodiversity predicted that managing habitats for stone-curlews could benefit many other rare and threatened plants and invertebrates with no additional effort.
Priority - Species - Bare - Habitats - Stone-curlews
That's because these priority species need the same bare and open habitats as stone-curlews. Predatory beetles like the open territory to spot and hunt prey, whereas many colonizing plants like the clear space to set down roots with little competition.
A program led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) over thirty years has endeared the stone-curlew to many local bird watchers,...
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