Protected areas, such as nature reserves, are essential for effective conservation of threatened species through protection and management of populations and habitats. Habitat evaluation is a key method that has been frequently used to assess the effectiveness of protected areas. Previous research has mainly focused on species conservation related to changes in land cover and habitat fragmentation while few studies have examined changes in microhabitat structure. Using a multi-scale habitat change analysis (i.e. regional, macro- and microhabitat) in a temporal framework, we assessed the effectiveness of current nature reserve management for the habitat protection of the Reeves's pheasant Syrmaticus reevesii, a vulnerable, forest-dwelling species. We measured land use/land cover changes inside and outside the Dongzhai National Nature Reserve (DNNR), in 2002 and 2013 corresponding to the times at and after the establishment of the DNNR. We also compared differences in habitat fragmentation patterns and microhabitat structure and composition between the two periods. Results show that the forest coverage has slightly increased both inside and outside DNNR, and habitat fragmentation metrics have not changed substantially since the establishment of DNNR. Significant differences were detected in microhabitat structure and composition between 2002 and 2013. After more than 10 years of no disturbance, canopy cover and density of the shrub layer increased, while herbaceous plant height declined. The observed changes reduced resource availability resulting in increased foraging time for pheasants and increased predation rates. This suggests that current nature reserve management systems may have negative impacts on the conservation of the Reeves's pheasant. We propose that the Regulations of Nature Reserves in China should be revised to account for the habitat requirements of different threatened species with varied life history traits.
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