The use of native vegetation as a proxy for habitat may overestimate habitat availability in fragmented landscapes
Native vegetation is often used as a proxy for habitat to estimate habitat availability in landscapes. This approach may lead to incorrect estimates of the impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation on species, which have not been thoroughly quantified so far. We quantified to what extent the loss of native vegetation reflect actual habitat loss by native species in landscapes. We tested the hypothesis that habitat availability declines at greater rates than native vegetation and thus is overestimated when it is quantified on the basis of native vegetation. Using simulations, we quantified how the loss of native vegetation in artificial and real landscapes affects habitat availability for species with different habitat requirements. We contrasted a generalist species, which uses all native vegetation, with 10 habitat-specialist species classified into three categories (interior, patchy and riparian species). Habitat availability generally declined at greater rates than native vegetation for all specialist species. This pattern was apparent for different specialist species in a broad range of landscape types. Interior species always lost habitat availability more rapidly than the generalist species. Most riparian species lost habitat availability more rapidly than the generalist species. Responses of patchy species were more complex, depending on their dispersal abilities and landscape structure. Habitat availability is likely to be overestimated when native vegetation is used as proxy for habitat, because habitat availability will generally decline at greater rates than native vegetation. Therefore, a species-centered approach should be adopted when estimating habitat availability in landscapes.