Bird diversity in cacao farms and forest fragments of western Panama
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Theobroma cacao plantings, when managed under the shade of rainforest trees, provide habitat for many resident and migratory bird species. We compared the bird diversity and community structure in organic cacao farms and nearby forest fragments throughout mainland Bocas del Toro, Panama. We used this dataset to ask the following questions: (1) How do bird communities using cacao habitat compare to communities of nearby forest fragments? (2) To what extent do Northern migratory birds use shaded cacao farms, and do communities of resident birds shift their abundances in cacao farms seasonally? (3) Do small scale changes in shade management of cacao farms affect bird diversity? Using fixed radius point counts and additional observations, we recorded 234 landbird species, with 102 species that were observed in both cacao and forest fragments, 86 species that were only observed in cacao farms, and 46 species that were restricted to forest fragments. Cacao farms were rich in canopy and edge species such as tanagers, flycatchers and migratory warblers, but understory insectivores were nearly absent from cacao farms. We observed 27 migratory species, with 18 species in cacao farms only, two species in forest only, and seven species that occurred in both habitats. In cacao farms, the diversity of birds was significantly greater where there was less intensive management of the canopy shade trees. Shade tree species richness was most important for explaining variance in bird diversity. Our study shows that shaded cacao farms in western Panama provide habitat for a wide variety of resident and migratory bird species. Considering current land use trends in the region, we suggest that action must be taken to prevent conversion away from shaded cacao farms to land uses with lower biodiversity conservation value.
KeywordsAgroecosystem Bocas del Toro Bird diversity Migratory birds Theobroma cacao
The authors thank E. Herre, S. Philpott, M. Libsch and several anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. For assistance in the field we thank M. Morazon, I. Ochoa, M. Libsch, V. Aguilar, O. Morales, E. Herre and D. Herre. Many farmers offered their farms and shelter, and we give special thanks to the Lozado family in Charagre and the Aguilar family in La Gloria for facilitating this project. We thank the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and COCABO for logistical support. Permission to do this research was granted by the ANAM of Panama. All financial support came from the sale of Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center “Bird Friendly Coffee,” a certification and labeling program in which coffee companies dedicate $.25 per pound of coffee sales to research in shaded tropical agrosystems.
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