Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 1131–1159 | Cite as

How resilient are Andean montane forest bird communities to habitat degradation?

  • Niall O’DeaEmail author
  • Robert J. Whittaker
Original paper


The threatened forest habitats of the tropical Andes are reportedly being modified and destroyed 30% faster than their lowland tropical counterparts, but impacts on the hyper-diverse resident avifauna have received little systematic study. We present a baseline analysis of the effects of habitat modification on birds in a lower montane forest landscape in Ecuador, comparing avian community composition in landscape elements subjected to different levels of human modification: primary forest, secondary forest, edge habitat and agricultural land. We use data from a point count survey of 300 counts at 150 sites to test whether community composition and density of birds with different reported habitat preferences and foraging strategies change among landscape elements. Species richness and diversity were lowest in agricultural land, but on some measures, equally low in primary forest. Richness and diversity peaked in secondary forest and edge habitat, but ordination and density analysis revealed clear differences in their species composition. While secondary forest contained mostly forest-preferring species, edge habitat harboured a mix of forest and open-land birds. There was a clearly structured gradient in species composition across landscape elements, with densities of habitat specialists, foraging guilds and families varying considerably from primary forest to agricultural land. Agricultural land was characterised by an assemblage of widespread, abundant species very different from that in core forest habitats. As such, while the majority of montane forest birds appear resilient to a certain level of habitat modification, they cannot persist, and are displaced, where forest has been cleared outright. We argue that, for Andean montane forests, preservation of mature secondary forest offers flexibility in supplementing preserved primary forest areas to provide sufficient habitat for the persistence of this incredibly diverse but severely threatened bird community.


Ecuador Human habitat modification Montane forest birds Population density Species richness 



We are grateful to Kate Ballem, Charles Marsh, William Perez, Andy Taylor and Anna Whitfield for assistance with fieldwork in Ecuador. We thank Fundación Maquipucuna, Cooperativa Santa Lucia and the Mindo Biological Station for granting us access to their land and for their hospitality during our stay and Scott Henderson for help in initiating the project. We thank James Watson, Gustavo Kattan, and an anonymous referee for providing useful criticisms of earlier drafts of the manuscript. This research was funded in part by Fundación Maquipucuna, the Rhodes Trust, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Vaughan Cornish Bequest, and Exeter College, Oxford.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biodiversity Research Group, Centre for the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUnited Kingdom

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