Effects of Natura 2000 on nontarget bird and butterfly species based on citizen science data
Abstract The European Union's Natura 2000 (N2000) is among the largest international networks of protected areas. One of its aims is to secure the status of a predetermined set of (targeted) bird and butterfly species. However, nontarget species may also benefit from N2000. We evaluated how the terrestrial component of this network affects the abundance of nontargeted, more common bird and butterfly species based on data from long-term volunteer-based monitoring programs in 9602 sites for birds and 2001 sites for butterflies. In almost half of the 155 bird species assessed, and particularly among woodland specialists, abundance increased (slope estimates ranged from 0.101 [SD 0.042] to 3.51 [SD 1.30]) as the proportion of landscape covered by N2000 sites increased. This positive relationship existed for 27 of the 104 butterfly species (estimates ranged from 0.382 [SD 0.163] to 4.28 [SD 0.768]), although most butterflies were generalists. For most species, when land-cover covariates were accounted for these positive relationships were not evident, meaning land cover may be a determinant of positive effects of the N2000 network. The increase in abundance as N2000 coverage increased correlated with the specialization index for birds, but not for butterflies. Although the N2000 network supports high abundance of a large spectrum of species, the low number of specialist butterflies with a positive association with the N2000 network shows the need to improve the habitat quality of N2000 sites that could harbor open-land butterfly specialists. For a better understanding of the processes involved, we advocate for standardized collection of data at N2000 sites.
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