Patterns of diversity along a habitat size gradient in a biodiversity hotspot.
Habitat destruction and loss are the gravest threats to wildlife worldwide. We examined the correlation between habitat patch size and species richness and abundance of mammals and reptiles in a biodiversity hotspot in California. Within nine forest fragments standardized for age, topography, climate, and vegetation cover, we tested the effects of patch size and isolation on biodiversity. To measure species richness and abundance, we used wildlife cameras for meso-and-large vertebrates, mark-and-recapture analyses for small mammals, mark-and-resight analysis for reptiles, and standard dragging techniques for tick collections because they are frequent ectoparasites on vertebrates in oak woodland habitats. Our results show that meso-and-large vertebrate richness and abundance increase with patch area as does tick density. Surprisingly, small mammal species richness and abundance peak in intermediate-sized fragments. Resource limitation and competition at the smallest habitats and predation at the largest patches may be responsible for this pattern. Further, there is a significant decrease in invasive species richness with habitat patch size. We found that habitat destruction and fragmentation are acting upon species and communities in context-dependent ways that is critical to conservation planning, land use design, and ecosystem function.