Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 1965–1989 | Cite as

Linking vegetation structure and bird organization: response of mixed-species bird flocks to forest succession in subtropical China

  • Qiang Zhang
  • Richou Han
  • Zhongliang Huang
  • Fasheng ZouEmail author
Original Paper


As forests undergo natural succession following artificial afforestation, their bird assemblages also change. However, interspecific avian social organization associated with forest succession has not been fully understood, particularly for mixed-species bird flocks. To disentangle how mixed-species flocks change as a function of local forest structure, we analyzed flock characteristics (particularly species richness, flocking frequency and propensity) and vegetation physiognomies along a presumed successional series (early, middle, and advanced) simultaneously in subtropical forests in southern China. As hypothesized, monthly point counts demonstrated that complexity of flocks increases with the progression of natural forest succession at a local scale. Advanced forests differed significantly from pioneering plantations with respect to vegetation structure, flock characteristics and constituents (especially for understory specialists). Importantly, forest succession affected flock patterns particularly in relation to the flocking propensity of regular species, and the frequency of nuclear species (Huet’s fulvetta Alcippe hueti), which in turn determined flocking occurrence at different successional stands. Canonical correspondence analysis indicated that understory flocking species (mainly Timaliidae babblers) were significantly associated with intact native canopy cover, complex DBH diversity, as well as high densities of dead trees and large trees, representing a maturity level of successional stands. Our study reveals that the effect of natural forest succession on mixed-species bird flocks is species-specific and guild-dependent. From a conservation perspective, despite a high proliferation of pine plantation in southern China, priority should be placed on protecting the advanced forest with a rich collection of understory flocking specialists.


Flock characteristics Forest succession Mixed-species bird flock Nuclear species Southern China 



We thank Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, Richard W. Lewthwaite, Harry Taylor, Yang Liu, Guomin Huang, Min Zhang and Feifei Zhu for valuable discussion, and English revision of the manuscript. We are grateful to Dinghushan Forest Ecosystem Research Station staff for their assistance in field data collection. Finally, we appreciate David Hawksworth and three anonymous referees for their insights and suggestions. This research is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No: 31200327, 31172067), Guangdong Natural Science Foundation (No: 10151026001000008), and Guangdong Plan Project (No: 2010B060200034).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qiang Zhang
    • 1
  • Richou Han
    • 1
  • Zhongliang Huang
    • 2
  • Fasheng Zou
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Guangdong Entomological Institute/South China Institute of Endangered AnimalsGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.South China Botanical GardenChinese Academy of ScienceGuangzhouChina

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