Shrubs are widely considered a threat to grassland biodiversity. We investigated the effects of shrub cover and grazing intensity on bird communities in sub–Mediterranean pastures in Bulgaria. The point–count method was used on 80 plots in open (< 10% shrub cover) and shrubby (approx. 20% cover) pastures under either intensive or extensive management (grazing intensity) from 2008 to 2009. We recorded a total of 1,956 observations of birds from 53 species. Main environmental gradients accounting for the bird community pattern were related to vegetation succession and land productivity. Bird species richness was higher in shrubby pastures than in open sites, while no effect was found in respect to total bird abundance. Bird species diversity (i.e. H’ index) was highest in extensive shrubby pastures. Shrubland specialists were positively affected by shrub cover and extensive management of pastures while grassland and woodland specialists showed no significant response to these factors. We conclude that a small proportion of shrubs within pastures may be beneficial for farmland birds and sustainable management of pastures could be achieved by greater flexibility of national agri–environmental schemes.
Agri–environmental scheme, Farmland birds, Grassland management, Semi–natural habitats, Shrubby vegetation
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