Does habitat heterogeneity influence taxonomic richness and abundance? A case study from a terrestrial protected area in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Saudi J Biol Sci. 2022 Mar;29(3):1737-1746. doi: 10.1016/j.sjbs.2021.10.056. Epub 2021 Oct 27.


Biodiversity is under enormous pressure from multiple threats including climate change, land use change, habitat alterations and hunting pressure. One way to ease this pressure on biodiversity and to mitigate the effects of above-mentioned threats, is to establish protected areas. Importance of protected increases many folds in regions that are considered as biodiversity poor regions i.e. deserts. Protected areas have long been a major pillar of biodiversity conservation strategies; the Houbara Protected Area (HPA) is one of the 13 terrestrial protected areas in Abu Dhabi Emirate officially declared in 2017. However, no information regarding the status of biodiversity in the HPA has been communicated to the research fraternity. During the present study, surveys were conducted to fill this gap. The survey area was divided in to 50 grids of 5 × 5 km2 and monitoring surveys were undertaken from January to December 2016. A total of 14 bi-monthly to monthly surveys were conducted within HPA and 196 species of different taxonomical groups were recorded. A year-long survey yielded highly diversified fauna and flora from 19 different habitat types (H) 1.32, (E) 2.28, Shannon Diversity Index). We looked at the influence of habitat breadth and temperature on the species richness and abundance, results shows that in desert setup heterogeneity of habitat is not an important factor in maintaining the biodiversity as total number of individuals as well as species were similar in the grids that have different number of habitat types (df = 34.3, t = -0.472, P = 0.640). However, we did find a positive impact of mean monthly temperature on species richness (df = 154, t = 2.53, P = 0.012). Our study highlights the importance of temperature in driving species abundance and richness in protected area. Abundance and species richness are similar in protected areas indicating that protection is allowing species to explore the heterogenous habitats. Overall, we can conclude that protection is beneficial for species.

Keywords: BPA, Baynunah Protected Area; HPA, Houbara Protected Area; PAs, Protected Areas; TPAs, Terrestrial Protected Areas; UAE, United Arab Emirates.