A global model of the response of tropical and sub-tropical forest biodiversity to anthropogenic pressures.
ABSTRACT: Habitat loss and degradation, driven largely by agricultural expansion and intensification, present the greatest immediate threat to biodiversity. Tropical forests harbour among the highest levels of terrestrial species diversity and are likely to experience rapid land-use change in the coming decades. Synthetic analyses of observed responses of species are useful for quantifying how land use affects biodiversity and for predicting outcomes under land-use scenarios. Previous applications of this approach have typically focused on individual taxonomic groups, analysing the average response of the whole community to changes in land use. Here, we incorporate quantitative remotely sensed data about habitats in, to our knowledge, the first worldwide synthetic analysis of how individual species in four major taxonomic groups--invertebrates, 'herptiles' (reptiles and amphibians), mammals and birds--respond to multiple human pressures in tropical and sub-tropical forests. We show significant independent impacts of land use, human vegetation offtake, forest cover and human population density on both occurrence and abundance of species, highlighting the value of analysing multiple explanatory variables simultaneously. Responses differ among the four groups considered, and--within birds and mammals--between habitat specialists and habitat generalists and between narrow-ranged and wide-ranged species.
Project description:Biodiversity loss from deforestation may be partly offset by the expansion of secondary forests and plantation forestry in the tropics. However, our current knowledge of the value of these habitats for biodiversity conservation is limited to very few taxa, and many studies are severely confounded by methodological shortcomings. We examined the conservation value of tropical primary, secondary, and plantation forests for 15 taxonomic groups using a robust and replicated sample design that minimized edge effects. Different taxa varied markedly in their response to patterns of land use in terms of species richness and the percentage of species restricted to primary forest (varying from 5% to 57%), yet almost all between-forest comparisons showed marked differences in community structure and composition. Cross-taxon congruence in response patterns was very weak when evaluated using abundance or species richness data, but much stronger when using metrics based upon community similarity. Our results show that, whereas the biodiversity indicator group concept may hold some validity for several taxa that are frequently sampled (such as birds and fruit-feeding butterflies), it fails for those exhibiting highly idiosyncratic responses to tropical land-use change (including highly vagile species groups such as bats and orchid bees), highlighting the problems associated with quantifying the biodiversity value of anthropogenic habitats. Finally, although we show that areas of native regeneration and exotic tree plantations can provide complementary conservation services, we also provide clear empirical evidence demonstrating the irreplaceable value of primary forests.
Project description:Despite an increasing amount of data on the effects of tropical land use on continental forest fauna and flora, it is debatable whether the choice of the indicator variables allows for a proper evaluation of the role of modified habitats in mitigating the global biodiversity crisis. While many single-taxon studies have highlighted that species with narrow geographic ranges especially suffer from habitat modification, there is no multi-taxa study available which consistently focuses on geographic range composition of the studied indicator groups. We compiled geographic range data for 180 bird, 119 butterfly, 204 tree and 219 understorey plant species sampled along a gradient of habitat modification ranging from near-primary forest through young secondary forest and agroforestry systems to annual crops in the southwestern lowlands of Cameroon. We found very similar patterns of declining species richness with increasing habitat modification between taxon-specific groups of similar geographic range categories. At the 8 km(2) spatial level, estimated richness of endemic species declined in all groups by 21% (birds) to 91% (trees) from forests to annual crops, while estimated richness of widespread species increased by +101% (trees) to +275% (understorey plants), or remained stable (-2%, butterflies). Even traditional agroforestry systems lost estimated endemic species richness by -18% (birds) to -90% (understorey plants). Endemic species richness of one taxon explained between 37% and 57% of others (positive correlations) and taxon-specific richness in widespread species explained up to 76% of variation in richness of endemic species (negative correlations). The key implication of this study is that the range size aspect is fundamental in assessments of conservation value via species inventory data from modified habitats. The study also suggests that even ecologically friendly agricultural matrices may be of much lower value for tropical conservation than indicated by mere biodiversity value.
Project description:Species' traits influence how populations respond to land-use change. However, even in well-characterized groups such as birds, widely studied traits explain only a modest proportion of the variance in response across species. Here, we show that associations with particular forest types strongly predict the sensitivity of forest-dwelling Amazonian birds to agriculture. Incorporating these fine-scale habitat associations into models of population response dramatically improves predictive performance and markedly outperforms the functional traits that commonly appear in similar analyses. Moreover, by identifying habitat features that support assemblages of unusually sensitive habitat-specialist species, our model furnishes straightforward conservation recommendations. In Amazonia, species that specialize on forests along a soil-nutrient gradient (i.e. both rich-soil specialists and poor-soil specialists) are exceptionally sensitive to agriculture, whereas species that specialize on floodplain forests are unusually insensitive. Thus, habitat specialization per se does not predict disturbance sensitivity, but particular habitat associations do. A focus on conserving specific habitats that harbour highly sensitive avifaunas (e.g. poor-soil forest) would protect a critically threatened component of regional biodiversity. We present a conceptual model to explain the divergent responses of habitat specialists in the different habitats, and we suggest that similar patterns and conservation opportunities probably exist for other taxa and regions.
Project description:Avian adenoviruses (AdVs) are a very diverse group of pathogens causing diseases in poultry and wild birds. Wild birds, endangered by habitat loss and habitat fragmentation in the tropical forests, are recognised to play a role in the transmission of various AdVs. In this study, two novel, hitherto unknown AdVs were described from faecal samples of smooth-billed ani and tropical screech owl. The former was classified into genus Aviadenovirus, the latter into genus Atadenovirus, and both viruses most probably represent new AdV species as well. These results show that there is very limited information about the biodiversity of AdVs in tropical wild birds, though viruses might have a major effect on the population of their hosts or endanger even domesticated animals. Surveys like this provide new insights into the diversity, evolution, host variety, and distribution of avian AdVs.
Project description:Vertebrates perform key roles in ecosystem processes via trophic interactions with plants and insects, but the response of these interactions to environmental change is difficult to quantify in complex systems, such as tropical forests. Here, we use the functional trait structure of Amazonian forest bird assemblages to explore the impacts of land-cover change on two ecosystem processes: seed dispersal and insect predation. We show that trait structure in assemblages of frugivorous and insectivorous birds remained stable after primary forests were subjected to logging and fire events, but that further intensification of human land use substantially reduced the functional diversity and dispersion of traits, and resulted in communities that occupied a different region of trait space. These effects were only partially reversed in regenerating secondary forests. Our findings suggest that local extinctions caused by the loss and degradation of tropical forest are non-random with respect to functional traits, thus disrupting the network of trophic interactions regulating seed dispersal by forest birds and herbivory by insects, with important implications for the structure and resilience of human-modified tropical forests. Furthermore, our results illustrate how quantitative functional traits for specific guilds can provide a range of metrics for estimating the contribution of biodiversity to ecosystem processes, and the response of such processes to land-cover change.
Project description:Tropical forest fragmentation results in habitat and biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions. Here, we link an increased likelihood of tropical forest loss to decreasing fragment size, particularly in primary forests. The relationship holds for protected areas, albeit with half the rate of loss compared with all fragments. The fact that disturbance increases as primary forest fragment size decreases reflects higher land use pressures and improved access for resource extraction and/or conversion in smaller fragments. Large remaining forest fragments are found in the Amazon and Congo Basins and Insular Southeast Asia, with the majority of large extent/low loss fragments located in the Amazon. Tropical areas without large fragments, including Central America, West Africa, and mainland Southeast Asia, have higher loss within and outside of protected areas. Results illustrate the need for rigorous land use planning, management, and enforcement in maintaining large tropical forest fragments and restoring regions of advanced fragmentation.
Project description:Decision-makers increasingly seek scientific guidance on investing in nature, but biodiversity remains difficult to estimate across diverse landscapes. Here, we develop empirically based models for quantifying biodiversity across space. We focus on agricultural lands in the tropical forest biome, wherein lies the greatest potential to conserve or lose biodiversity. We explore two questions, drawing from empirical research oriented toward pioneering policies in Costa Rica. First, can remotely sensed tree cover serve as a reliable basis for improved estimation of biodiversity, from plots to regions? Second, how does tropical biodiversity change across the land-use gradient from native forest to deforested cropland and pasture? We report on understory plants, nonflying mammals, bats, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Using data from 67,737 observations of 908 species, we test how tree cover influences biodiversity across space. First, we find that fine-scale mapping of tree cover predicts biodiversity within a taxon-specific radius (of 30-70 m) about a point in the landscape. Second, nearly 50% of the tree cover in our study region is embedded in countryside forest elements, small (typically 0.05-100 ha) clusters or strips of trees on private property. Third, most species use multiple habitat types, including crop fields and pastures (to which 15% of species are restricted), although some taxa depend on forest (57% of species are restricted to forest elements). Our findings are supported by comparisons of 90 studies across Latin America. They provide a basis for a planning tool that guides investments in tropical forest biodiversity similar to those for securing ecosystem services.
Project description:Land-use change is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, especially in the tropics where secondary and plantation forests are expanding while primary forest is declining. Understanding how well these disturbed habitats maintain biodiversity is therefore important-specifically how the maturity of secondary forest and the management intensity of plantation forest affect levels of biodiversity. Previous studies have shown that the biotas of different continents respond differently to land use. Any continental differences in the response could be due to differences in land-use intensity and maturity of secondary vegetation or to differences among species in their sensitivity to disturbances. We tested these hypotheses using an extensive dataset collated from published biodiversity comparisons within four tropical regions-Asia, Africa, Central America and South America-and a wide range of animal and plant taxa. We analysed responses to land use of several aspects of biodiversity-species richness, species composition and endemicity-allowing a more detailed comparison than in previous syntheses. Within each continent, assemblages from secondary vegetation of all successional stages retained species richness comparable to those in primary vegetation, but community composition was distinct, especially in younger secondary vegetation. Plantation forests, particularly the most intensively managed, supported a smaller-and very distinct-set of species from sites in primary vegetation. Responses to land use did vary significantly among continents, with the biggest difference in richness between plantation and primary forests in Asia. Responses of individual taxonomic groups did not differ strongly among continents, giving little indication that species were inherently more sensitive in Asia than elsewhere. We show that oil palm plantations support particularly low species richness, indicating that continental differences in the response of biodiversity to land use are perhaps more likely explained by Asia's high prevalence of oil palm plantations.
Project description:Rising global demands for food and biofuels are driving forest clearance in the tropics. Oil-palm expansion contributes to biodiversity declines and carbon emissions in Southeast Asia. However, the magnitudes of these impacts remain largely unquantified until now. We produce a 250-m spatial resolution map of closed canopy oil-palm plantations in the lowlands of Peninsular Malaysia (2 million ha), Borneo (2.4 million ha), and Sumatra (3.9 million ha). We demonstrate that 6% (or ?880,000 ha) of tropical peatlands in the region had been converted to oil-palm plantations by the early 2000s. Conversion of peatswamp forests to oil palm led to biodiversity declines of 1% in Borneo (equivalent to four species of forest-dwelling birds), 3.4% in Sumatra (16 species), and 12.1% in Peninsular Malaysia (46 species). This land-use change also contributed to the loss of ?140 million Mg of aboveground biomass carbon, and annual emissions of ?4.6 million Mg of belowground carbon from peat oxidation. Additionally, the loss of peatswamp forests implies the loss of carbon sequestration service through peat accumulation, which amounts to ?660,000 Mg of carbon annually. By 2010, 2.3 million ha of peatswamp forests were clear-felled, and currently occur as degraded lands. Reforestation of these clearings could enhance biodiversity by up to ?20%, whereas oil-palm establishment would exacerbate species losses by up to ?12%. To safeguard the region's biodiversity and carbon stocks, conservation and reforestation efforts should target Central Kalimantan, Riau, and West Kalimantan, which retain three-quarters (3.9 million ha) of the remaining peatswamp forests in Southeast Asia.
Project description:Protection of the world's remaining forests and biodiversity is a matter of global concern. Yunnan, China is home to China's only mainland tropical rainforests, and 20% of China's total biodiversity. Despite restoration measures and establishment of new protected areas, this region is still experiencing biodiversity loss due to inadequate management and monitoring. We evaluate restoration success of China's tropical forests in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve (XSBN-NNR), Yunnan, China using dung beetles as an indicator taxon. We sampled across a land-use gradient of human alteration: protected forest, restored forest, community owned forest, and rubber plantation. We collected 3,748 dung beetles from 21 species over a 3 month period. Multivariate analyses revealed unique assemblages in each land-use category, but with restored forest most similar to protected areas, suggesting restoration success in this region. Community forests were more diverse than plantations, suggesting that community forests may be a valuable and practical conservation tool in this region. Most species were generalists, although some had dietary and habitat preferences. Furthermore, dietary niche breadths were, on average, higher in disturbed areas, suggesting that disturbance may result in dietary changes. We show that restoration of tropical forests appears to be successful for a key ecological and biological indicator group- dung beetles. Furthermore, community-owned forests appear to be valuable and practical method of maintaining ecosystem health and biodiversity in the region. Future management in this region would likely benefit from encouragement to maintain community-owned forests, economic incentives for restoring farmland to forest, and increased environmental monitoring across the land-use gradient.