Landscape-Level Effects on Avifauna Within Tropical Agriculture in the Western Ghats: Insights for Management and Conservation

Jai Ranganathana, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, M. O. Anand | 2010


A critical handicap to tropical biodiversity conservation efforts in agroecosystems is the unknowns regarding the influence of landscape-scale factors on the persistence of species. To address these uncertainties, we explored two essential landscape-scale questions, within India’s biologically-rich Western Ghats, examining two nearby human-dominated landscapes that dramatically differed in their pattern of land cover. First, how does the proximity of intact forest patches affect bird community composition within agricultural landscapes? Second, can simple remote sensing-derived measures (brightness, wetness, and NDVI) be used to estimate native bird species composition within those landscapes? In both landscapes, as distance to intact forest decreased, the similarity in bird community composition between agricultural areas and intact forest increased. This suggests that the retention of tropical forest bird communities within human-dominated landscapes critically depends on the maintenance of nearby intact forest. In an answer to the second question, the remote sensing measures correlated with forest-affiliated avian species richness in only one of the two landscapes, reflecting an ecological difference between the two in the response of forest bird species to local agricultural conditions. In the landscape where a correlation was found, there was high variation in vegetative structure, which strongly impacted both the remote sensing measures and forest bird species richness. In the other landscape, forest species richness strongly correlated with changes in tree species composition in the agriculture, a factor that could not be detected by the remote sensing metrics. In order to successfully conserve biodiversity in tropical agricultural landscapes, our findings show that it is essential to conserve intact forest within those landscapes and to understand the effect of local agricultural practices on species.