Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 24, Issue 12, pp 3083–3107 | Cite as

The indirect effects of habitat disturbance on the bird communities in a tropical African forest

  • Christos Mammides
  • Matthias Schleuning
  • Katrin Böhning-Gaese
  • Gertrud Schaab
  • Nina Farwig
  • Costas Kadis
  • Tim Coulson
Original Paper


Tropical forests are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic activities often resulting in habitat and biodiversity loss. To effectively manage and protect these areas, it is important to have an understanding of the factors affecting their biodiversity. Previous research has shown that birds in tropical regions are severely affected by human-induced habitat conversion and disturbance. The effects, however, are often area and guild-specific and the underlying mechanisms are frequently unclear. In this study, we disentangle and quantify the direct and indirect effects of human population density, distance to forest edge, habitat disturbance, and vegetation structure and composition on the total abundance and species richness of birds in Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Specifically, we use structural equation modeling to develop and test path models, which reflect the potential causal relationships between the bird assemblages and the chosen explanatory factors. Relationships were tested on the overall bird community and on five different guilds, classified according to birds’ forest specialization and feeding preferences (i.e. forest specialists, generalists and visitors, and frugivores and insectivores). Results showed that habitat disturbance, caused by logging, had a weak positive direct effect on the bird communities, but also had a strong detrimental indirect effect, particularly on the total abundance and species richness of forests specialists and insectivores. The negative effect was mediated through changes in the forest’s vegetation structure and composition. Shorter distances to the forest edge also had a negative effect, on all bird categories except on forest visitors, which also benefited from higher levels of disturbance. Our study shows that although in some cases habitat disturbance may have no strong direct negative effects it can still negatively influence bird communities in an indirect way. In the case of Kakamega Forest, we suggest that to conserve bird communities it is important to maintain the forest’s compositional and structural diversity by reducing human-induced habitat disturbance, such as illegal logging activities.


Bird conservation Tropical forests Structural equation modeling Species richness Anthropogenic habitat disturbance Vegetation structure and composition 



We are thankful to Nixon Sajita, Jackson Welesi and Joash Ogutu for their assistance in the field and to two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor for their constructive feedback. This project was mainly funded by the Research Promotion Foundation in Cyprus, with co-funding from the European Union’s Structural Funds (Protocol Number PENK/SUPPORT/0308/42). Financial support for this study was also provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the BIOTA Africa project (Grant numbers: 01LC0025, 01LC0405, 01LC0625) and by the research funding program “Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung wissenschaftlich ökonomischer Exzellenz” (LOEWE) of Hesse’s Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and the Arts. TC acknowledges support of an ERC advanced grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Biology and Centre for Population Biology, Faculty of Life SciencesImperial College, Silwood Park, AscotBerkshireUK
  2. 2.Nature Conservation UnitFrederick UniversityNicosiaCyprus
  3. 3.Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesMenglaChina
  4. 4.Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) and Senckenberg Gesellschaft für NaturforschungFrankfurt/MainGermany
  5. 5.Faculty of Information Management and MediaKarlsruhe University of Applied SciencesKarlsruheGermany
  6. 6.Department of Ecology, Conservation EcologyUniversity of MarburgMarburgGermany
  7. 7.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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