Proximity to Forests Drives Bird Conservation Value of Coffee Plantations: Implications for Certification

Mandyam Osuri Anand, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Arundhati Das | 2008


Widespread loss of primary habitat in the tropics has led to increased interest in production landscapes for biodiversity conservation. In the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in India, shade coffee plantations are located in close proximity to sites of high conservation value: protected and unprotected forests. Coffee is grown here under a tree canopy that may be dominated by native tree species or by nonnative species, particularly silver oak (Grevillea robusta). We investigated the influence of properties at the local scale and the landscape scale in determining bird communities in coffee plantations, with particular emphasis on species of conservation priority. We used systematic point counts in 11 coffee plantation sites and analyzed data in a randomized linear modeling framework that addressed spatial autocorrelation. Greater proportion of silver oak at the local scale and distance to contiguous forests at the landscape scale were implicated as factors most strongly driving declines in bird species richness and abundance, while increased basal area of native tree species, a local-scale variable, was frequently related to increased bird species richness and abundance. The influence of local-scale variables increased at greater distances from the forest. Distance to forests emerged as the strongest predictor of declines in restricted-range species, with 92% reduction in the abundance of two commonly encountered restricted-range species (Pompadour Green Pigeon and Yellow-browed Bulbul) and a 43% reduction in richness of bird species restricted to Indian hill forests within 8 km of forests. Increase in proportion of silver oak from 33% to 55% was associated with 91% reduction in the abundance of one commonly encountered restricted-range species (Crimson-fronted Barbet). One conservation strategy is providing incentives to grow coffee in a biodiversity-friendly manner. One implication of our study is that plantations located at varying distances to the forest cannot be compared fairly for biodiversity friendliness by existing certification methodology. Another is that conservation of existing forests at the landscape scale is essential for maintaining higher biodiversity in coffee plantations. Incentive schemes that promote conservation of remnant forests at the landscape scale and biodiversity-friendly practices locally and that relate to coffee communities as a whole rather than individual planters are likely to be more effective.