For tropical forest birds, old neighborhoods matter

February 15, 2018, Oregon State University
Violet sabrewing hummingbird in Costa Rica. Credit: Urs Kormann

Old, complex tropical forests support a wider diversity of birds than second-growth forests and have irreplaceable value for conservation, according to an Oregon State University-led exhaustive analysis of bird diversity in the mountains of southern Costa Rica.

During their surveys, researchers found similar numbers of bird species in secondary stands compared to stands comprised entirely or in part of old-growth forest. However, the bird community in secondary forest was clearly shifted towards non-forest species, and only old-growth forest stands tended to include rare birds and to benefit biodiversity across the entire landscape. Scientists reported their results this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The findings are important because in some cases, conservation programs have focused on the potential benefits of secondary forests. Although secondary forests do have value for conservation, the study suggests that primary forests are necessary as sources of biodiversity and as a refuge for species that can colonize other sites that are being restored. Thus, these results suggest that a strategy focussing only on second-growth forests may not benefit conservation-relevant species. Indeed, such stands tend to support only a few common species that can survive in highly disturbed areas.

Emerald toucanet in Costa Rica. Credit: Urs Kormann

To reach their conclusions, a team led by Urs Kormann, a post-doctoral scientist in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, surveyed bird communities in 49 forest fragments near the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica. They analyzed diversity within each fragment as well as from one stand to another. Much of the old-growth forest in the area has been cleared for pasture in the last 50 years, but about 30 percent of the old-growth remains in patches ranging from less than two to more than 2,500 acres. The study was conducted in the Coto Brus region, which borders Panama and varies from rolling hills to mountains more than 10,000 feet high.

Previous studies have focused only on bird diversity within a tropical forest stand and not analyzed how the community changes from one stand to another. "We show that there are always the same few common species in small, isolated secondary forest fragments, so each time you go to another piece of forest, you will encounter the same common birds, a phenomenon called biotic homogenisation. In contrast, you will often see new, rare species with each new piece of primary forest you visit," said Kormann, lead author of the paper.

"We add to the growing evidence that both the amount of forest and the way it is arranged matters for tropical birds. In addition, we are among the first, to my knowledge, to show that it is really important to distinguish between primary and secondary forest. Landscapes with only secondary forest may not represent a panacea for the conservation of tropical biodiversity."

Chestnut backed antbird in Costa Rica. Credit: Urs Kormann

Effective conservation efforts should include maintenance of large old-growth forest tracts, the scientists wrote, and insure that human activities in the forest do not drive away that depend on such areas. The results also suggest that restoring forests is likely to be most effective for forest birds if such efforts are performed in the vicinity of primary forest. This is likely because primary forest will provide a source for forest birds that may colonize the restored . Relying on secondary forests alone may create "potentially misleading expectations," researchers wrote, that landscapes significantly modified by people can still accomplish goals.

In other studies, scientists have documented the ecological functions that perform, such as seed dispersal, pollination and herbivore control.

Explore further: Complex, old-growth forests may protect some bird species in a warming climate

More information: Urs G. Kormann et al, Primary rainforest amount at the landscape scale mitigates bird biodiversity loss and biotic homogenization, Journal of Applied Ecology (2017). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13084

Related Stories

Rainforest carbon recovers faster than biodiversity

November 18, 2013

When tropical forests are cleared, they can take a century or more to re-absorb the carbon they once held, according to a new study. But their biodiversity is even slower to recover, and some species may never return.

Recommended for you

Looking beyond genes to explain blood cells' fates

March 19, 2018

Scientists often talk about cell fate and commitment in terms of mechanisms that control gene expression (transcription factors, chromatin remodeling, etc.). But by studying Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA), rare genetic blood ...

Drawing inspiration from plants and animals to restore tissue

March 19, 2018

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed new wound dressings that dramatically accelerate healing ...

Researchers measure gene activity in single cells

March 16, 2018

For biologists, a single cell is a world of its own: It can form a harmonious part of a tissue, or go rogue and take on a diseased state, like cancer. But biologists have long struggled to identify and track the many different ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 15, 2018
Biodiversity generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth, whether at the genetics, the species, and the ecosystem level. This is the rich diversity that continues to provide for the human population while working together to continue to flourish and grow more diverse, at least that's how it should be. The challenges of today's time are the policies which do not completely reflect the aim of sustainable development, of not taking for granted the resources the environment produces for our survival. Tropical rain forests are filled with a multitude of life, that can be studied and maybe that can later be used to create other resources in forms that will continue humanity's survival but with our current policy of overconsumption and deforestation, this may not be a reality. Planting back trees, as can be seen from the article, reduces the rich diversity that had been growing for generations and which cannot easily be transferred to a foreign entity brought in to
not rated yet Feb 15, 2018
replace that which was taken out. This Earth has seen the reduction from the 1.2 billion hectares of tropical rain forest habitat that originally existed, to less than 400 million that remain. If that doesn't say anything about our value of the ecosystem, of the resources and diversity which keep us going, then what will? This doesn't mean that human activity cannot happen, sometimes the diverse interaction of the species leads to further variability and diversity, but human activity that destroys and tarnishes the environment of these species is not in accordance with many conservationist groups such as CEMEX and BirdLife International, who wish to restore priority habitats from these species which seem to take a backseat to human problems.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.