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Conserving Himalayan birds in highly seasonal forested and agricultural landscapes

Elsen, Paul R., Ramesh, Krishnamurthy, Wilcove, David S.
Conservation biology 2018 v.32 no.6 pp. 1313-1324
avifauna, biodiversity, birds, breeding, breeding season, habitat destruction, land use, landscapes, pastures, primary forests, winter, Himalayan region
The Himalayas are a global biodiversity hotspot threatened by widespread agriculture and pasture expansion. To determine the impact of these threats on biodiversity and to formulate appropriate conservation strategies, we surveyed birds along elevational gradients in primary forest and in human‐dominated lands spanning a gradient of habitat alteration, including forest‐agriculture mosaics, mixed agriculture mosaics, and pasture. We surveyed birds during the breeding season and in winter to account for pronounced seasonal migrations. Bird abundance and richness in forest‐agriculture and mixed agriculture mosaics were equal to or greater than in primary forest and greater than in pasture at local and landscape scales during both seasons. Pasture had greater abundance and richness of birds in winter than primary forest, but richness was greater in primary forest at the landscape scale during the breeding season. All 4 land‐use types held unique species, suggesting that all must be retained in the landscape to conserve the entire avifauna. Our results suggest forest‐agriculture and mixed agriculture mosaics are particularly important for sustaining Himalayan bird communities during winter and primary forests are vital for sustaining Himalayan bird communities during the breeding season. Further conversion of forest‐agriculture and mixed agriculture mosaics to pasture would likely result in significant biodiversity losses that would disproportionately affect breeding species. To ensure comprehensive conservation, strategies in the western Himalayas must balance the protection of intact primary forest with the minimization of pasture expansion.