Main content area

Canopy tree preference by insectivorous birds in shade‐coffee farms: Implications for migratory bird conservation

Narango, Desirée L., Tallamy, Douglas W., Snyder, Kerry J., Rice, Robert A.
Biotropica 2019 v.51 no.3 pp. 387-398
Neotropics, biodiversity, canopy, farms, foraging, habitats, insectivores, migratory birds, overwintering, trees, wildlife
Land converted to coffee agriculture occupies >5 million hectares of what was once prime overwintering natural habitat in the American Neotropics for migrating birds. When tree canopy is retained or restored (i.e., shade‐grown), coffee farms can serve as habitat refuge for wildlife. Yet few studies have examined whether canopy tree identity impacts habitat quality for biodiversity. Specifically, whether or not certain tree species are disproportionately important for foraging insectivorous birds remains unclear. In this study, we quantified bird foraging activity on 22 tree species in two Latin American Bird Friendly© coffee farms. Specifically, we conducted timed observations on focal trees to determine 1) tree preferences, 2) foraging bird abundance, 3) foraging time, and 4) species richness of birds using each canopy tree species. We found that birds did not forage randomly, and instead exhibited preferences for particular native tree species. Nitrogen‐fixing Fabaceae were consistently used more frequently, supported more resident and migratory birds for longer periods of time, and supported more bird species than trees in other families. We posit that the potential mechanism contributing to tree preferences is the increase in insect abundance and diversity that provide high‐quality food for insectivores but do not present pest problems for coffee. Thus, tree species that support insects may provide multiple benefits for farmers in the form of bottom‐up soil fertilization and top‐down pest control. This study provides evidence that agroforestry land can be improved for birds of conservation concern by prioritizing canopy tree species that help birds and farm productivity.