Fragmented habitats no ultimate refuges for forest-dwelling tropical birds

DURHAM, N.C. -- Deep-woods bird species that manage to hang on in remaining patches of a deforested area of Brazil gain no real advantage in avoiding extinction, Duke University ecologists have found. The researchers studied the coastal region harboring the greatest number of threatened birds in the Americas.

"We found that species that also tolerate secondary habitats are not deforestation's survivors," said Grant Harris, the first author of a paper on the subject published in the December issue of the research journal "Conservation Biology."

"If you lose your habitat, everybody is equally threatened," added Harris' co-author, Stuart Pimm. "There's no special class of species that seems to adapt well to the habitats we create for them."

Harris recently completed his doctorate under Pimm at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and is now employed by the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska. Pimm is the Nicholas School's Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology who does extensive work in tropical areas.

Their research was funded by the American Philosophical Society.

"Deforestation is rarely total or completely permanent," the two authors wrote in their "Conservation Biology" paper. "Small patches of original habitat remain and, in time, secondary forests, gardens or plantations replace some cleared areas."

Given that reality, the two authors designed a study to explore how well some species survive in deforested habitat and whether some surviving species can persist in such landscapes.

Their study focused on Brazil's Atlantic Forest, which the authors estimate now has been reduced to 119,540 square kilometers, or about 10 percent of its original extent. "There are more species threatened with extinction in this coastal strip of rain forest than anywhere else in the Americas," Pimm said in an interview.

"Starting maybe 75 years ago people began moving inland from the coastal citie

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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