Rocha, R., Tarmo, V. & Cabeza, M. (2015) Bird assemblages in a Malagasy forest-agricultural frontier: effects of habitat structure and landscape-scale forest cover.Tropical Conservation Science, 8(3), 681-710. DOI: (IF2015 1,194; Q3 Biodiversity Conservation)
Increasing global human population and per-capita food consumption are expected to exacerbate the already massive agricultural footprint in tropical ecosystems. Madagascar is home to exceptional levels of biodiversity and is in the midst of severe land-use change, mostly driven by slash-and-burn, smallholder agriculture. Understanding the consequences of these agricultural practices for Malagasy native species is therefore of the foremost importance for the conservation of the nation’s biodiversity. We surveyed bird assemblages inside and surrounding Ranomafana National Park, southeastern Madagascar, obtaining nearly 1,000 records of more than 60 species. At each study point, habitat structure was characterized by its vegetation complexity, and forest cover was quantified within circles of radii of 100, 500 and 750 m. We found that species richness was higher in forest than in agricultural areas, and responses to land-use change were found to be guildspecific, with frugivores being especially depleted outside forest areas, whereas granivores had higher species richness in the agricultural matrix. The number of recorded species with forest affinities was highly associated with landscape-scale forest cover, while open area and generalist species responded mainly to site-scale habitat structure. Our results demonstrate a turnover from forest-associated species to open area and habitat generalist species in Madagascar’s smallholder agricultural areas. Our study underscores the conservation value of landscape-scale forest cover and of site-scale vegetation complexity. A double-stranded conservation approach, in which both landscape-scale forest cover and vegetation complexity are preserved would benefit conservation of the island’s forest avifauna.