Ecological Filtering Shapes The Impacts Of Agricultural Deforestation On Biodiversity

Ghazala Shahabuddin

Nature Ecology And Evolution | January 8, 2024

The biodiversity impacts of agricultural deforestation vary widely across regions. Previous efforts to explain this variation have focused exclusively on the landscape features and management regimes of agricultural systems, neglecting the potentially critical role of ecological filtering in shaping deforestation tolerance of extant species assemblages at large geographical scales via selection for functional traits. Here we provide a large-scale test of this role using a global database of species abundance ratios between matched agricultural and native forest sites that comprises 71 avian assemblages reported in 44 primary studies, and a companion database of 10 functional traits for all 2,647 species involved. Using meta-analytic, phylogenetic and multivariate methods, we show that beyond agricultural features, filtering by the extent of natural environmental variability and the severity of historical anthropogenic deforestation shapes the varying deforestation impacts across species assemblages. For assemblages under greater environmental variability—proxied by drier and more seasonal climates under a greater disturbance regime—and longer deforestation histories, filtering has attenuated the negative impacts of current deforestation by selecting for functional traits linked to stronger deforestation tolerance. Our study provides a previously largely missing piece of knowledge in understanding and managing the biodiversity consequences of deforestation by agricultural deforestation.