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Responses of Seed‐Dispersing Birds to Amount of Rainforest in the Landscape around Fragments

Conservation biology 2014 v.28 no.2 pp. 551-560
birds, forest regeneration, functional properties, habitat destruction, habitats, rain forests, seed dispersal, species diversity, surveys
Habitat loss and fragmentation alter the composition of bird assemblages in rainforest. Because birds are major seed dispersers in rainforests, fragmentation‐induced changes to frugivorous bird assemblages are also likely to alter the ecological processes of seed dispersal and forest regeneration, but the specific nature of these changes is poorly understood. We assessed the influence of fragment size and landscape forest cover on the abundance, species composition, and functional properties of the avian seed disperser community in an extensively cleared, former rainforest landscape of subtropical Australia. Bird surveys of fixed time and area in 25 rainforest fragments (1–139 ha in size across a 1800 km² region) provided bird assemblage data which were coupled with prior knowledge of bird species’ particular roles in seed dispersal to give measurements of seven different attributes of the seed disperser assemblage. We used multimodel regression to assess how patch size and surrounding forest cover (within 200 m, 1000 m, and 5000 m radii) influenced variation in the abundance of individual bird species and of functional groups based on bird species’ responses to fragmentation and their roles in seed dispersal. Surrounding forest cover, specifically rainforest cover, generally had a greater effect on frugivorous bird assemblages than fragment size. Amount of rainforest cover within 200 m of fragments was the main factor positively associated with abundances of frugivorous birds that are both fragmentation sensitive and important seed dispersers. Our results suggest a high proportion of local rainforest cover is required for the persistence of seed‐dispersing birds and the maintenance of seed dispersal processes. Thus, even small rainforest fragments can function as important parts of habitat networks for seed‐dispersing birds, whether or not they are physically connected by vegetation.