Watson, James E. M., Whittaker, Robert J. and Dawson, Terence P.
Habitat structure and proximity to forest edge affect the abundance and distribution of forest-dependent birds in tropical coastal forests of south-eastern Madagascar
Biological Conservation, 120, (3), . (doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2004.03.004).
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Despite the fact that Madagascar is classified a biological 'hotspot' due to having both high levels of species endemism and high forest loss, there has been no published research on how Madagascan bird species respond to the creation of a forest edge or to degradation of their habitat. In this study, we examined how forest bird communities and different foraging guilds were affected by patch habitat quality and landscape context (forest core, forest edge and matrix habitat) in the threatened littoral forests of coastal southeastern Madagascar. We quantified habitat use and community composition of birds by conducting 20 point counts in each landscape contextual element in October and November 2002. We found that littoral forest core habitats had significantly (p < 0.01) more bird species than forest edge and matrix habitats. Thirty-one (68%) forest dependent species were found to be edge-sensitive. Forest edge sites had fewer species, and a higher representation of common species than forest interior sites. Twenty-nine species were found in the matrix habitat, and the majority of matrix-tolerant forest species had their greatest abundance within littoral forest edge habitats. Guild composition also changed with landscape context. Unlike other tropical studies with which we are familiar, we found that frugivorous species were edge-sensitive while sallying insectivores were edge-preferring. The majority of canopy insectivores (n = 15, 88%), including all six endemic vanga species, were edge-sensitive. When habitat quality was assessed, the distributions of nine edge-sensitive species were significantly (p < 0.01) affected by changes in habitat complexity and vegetation vertical structure in core or edge point counts. Therefore, we believe that changes in vegetation structure at the edge of littoral forest remnants may be a key indicator of mechanisms involved in edge sensitivity of forest dependent species in these forests. Our findings indicate that habitat fragmentation and degradation affect Madagascan bird communities and that these processes threaten many species. With continued deforestation and habitat degradation in Madagascar, we predict the further decline of many bird species.
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