Empty forests: safeguarding a sinking flagship in a biodiversity hotspot

Abstract

Anthropogenic activities caused a severe loss of pristine habitats alongside with fragmentation of remaining habitats and the deterioration of habitat quality. The Arabuko Sokoke forest represents the largest remnant of East African coastal forest. Despite conservation efforts to maintain biodiversity in this forest, populations of several species are declining, including flagship species like the endemic Sokoke Scops Owl Otus ireneae. In this study, we assessed the presence of O. ireneae based on playback technique to identify the occurrence of this species across the forest. We then analysed habitat parameters at sites occupied and non-occupied by the owl species. Our data show that O. ireneae occurs restricted to one single forest type, the Cynometra woodland. Results obtained from parametric one-way ANOVA and structural equation modelling reveal that large old Cynometra webberi trees and dead wood are key requirements for the occurrence of this owl species. However, large C. webberi trees are currently illegally logged by the forest adjacent human population to produce timber, carvings, poles. Charcoal and dead wood represents a major energy source for households. Otus ireneae, being the smallest owl of East Africa may serve as a charismatic flag ship species to promote conservation of this endangered coastal forest, and furthermore as umbrella to conserve other forest species with similar habitat requirements.

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Acknowledgements

We thank David Ngala (Gede, Kenya) and Katharina Lameter (Freising, Germany) for assistance in the field and Mike Teucher (Halle, Germany) for creating Fig. 1. Two anonymous referees provided very fruitful comments on a draft version of this article. The study was granted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). WU was supported by an institutional university Grant of UMK.

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Correspondence to Jan C. Habel.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Forest and plantation biodiversity.

Communicated by David Hawksworth.

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Cuadros-Casanova, I., Zamora, C., Ulrich, W. et al. Empty forests: safeguarding a sinking flagship in a biodiversity hotspot. Biodivers Conserv 27, 2495–2506 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-018-1548-4

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Keywords

  • Coastal forest
  • East Africa
  • Playback call
  • Habitat model
  • Habitat quality
  • Endemic species
  • Sokoke Scops Owl
  • Human needs
  • Poverty