Agricultural intensification has been associated with biodiversity declines, habitat fragmentation and loss in a number of organisms. Given the prevalence of this process, there is a need for studies clarifying the effects of changes in agricultural practices on local biological communities; for instance, the transformation of traditional rainfed agriculture into intensively irrigated agriculture. We focused on pond-breeding amphibians as model organisms to assess the ecological effects of agricultural intensification because they are sensitive to changes in habitat quality at both local and landscape scales. We applied a metacommunity approach to characterize amphibian communities breeding in a network of ponds embedded in a terrestrial habitat matrix that was partly converted from rainfed crops to intensive irrigated agriculture in the 1990s. Specifically, we compared alpha and beta diversity, species occupancy and abundance, and metacommunity structure between irrigated and rainfed areas. We found strong differences in patterns of species occurrence, community structure and pairwise beta diversity between agricultural management groups, with a marked community structure in rainfed ponds associated with local features and the presence of some rare species that were nearly absent in the irrigated area, which was characterized by a random community structure. Natural vegetation cover at the landscape scale, significantly lower on the irrigated area, was an important predictor of species occurrences. Our results suggest that maintaining both local and landscape heterogeneity is key to preserving diverse amphibian communities in Mediterranean agricultural landscapes.
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