Woodlands in agricultural lands surrounding a forested Protected Area support multiple guilds of a wintering bird community, a new study finds.
The results provide insights into the role of mixed agricultural–forest landscapes in the conservation of different facets of biodiversity. This study builds on the premise that while efforts to protect biodiversity in tropical forests have largely relied on the establishment of Protected Areas (PAs), there are limits to how much PAs can expand, and thus there is need to also evaluate agricultural land-uses for their potential to supplement biodiversity conservation.
The paper titled “In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings”: Woodlands in an agricultural matrix maintain functionality of a wintering bird community explores the potential of an agricultural landscape in Meghalaya to support a wintering bird community. It is the result of a Master’s thesis by the lead author, who is a student of the Post-Graduate program in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, a joint program by the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
The study was conducted by Mr. Biang La Nam Syiem of the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program, National Centre for Biological Sciences and Centre for Wildlife Studies; and Dr. Divya Vasudev and Dr. Varun R. Goswami of the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program, Centre for Wildlife Studies and Conservation Initiatives.
It appears in the international journal PLOS ONE.
The study uses a guild-based framework––that is a framework whereby bird species with similar characteristics are grouped together––to investigate the effects of vegetation structure and proximity to a PA in influencing the use of woodlands in agricultural lands surrounding the PA by the wintering bird community. It also investigates changes in species composition between the agricultural lands and the PA in the landscape.
The study area covered approximately 100 sq km in the Nongkhyllem landscape, located in Ri-Bhoi District of Meghalaya, Northeast India. The area included the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserve forest, agro-forests, agricultural lands and community- managed forests. Occupancy models were used to understand habitat–bird relationships and predict site use.
The study was conducted between November 2015 and May 2016.
The study found that multiple guilds of the bird community used the various sites surveyed in the landscape. Interestingly, tree cover did not limit the use of sites by some guilds as much as shrub and bamboo cover, probably due to already high tree cover. It also found that species richness of birds was higher in the agricultural lands than in the PA; however, specialised species such as hornbills and large woodpeckers may lose out in lands outside PAs.
The study provides insights into the effects of different components of vegetation structure on bird communities in wooded land-use types in agricultural landscapes. It also highlights the importance of woodlands surrounding forested Protected Areas in maintaining the ecological functioning of bird communities. The authors recommend that land-managers promote the prevailing wooded land-use types, such as recovering secondary forests, community-managed forests and betel leaf cultivation forests, due to their high predicted value in supporting multiple bird guilds.
Biang Syiem’s quote on relevance of study in Indian context and conservation implications.
“The study finds relevance in the management of agricultural landscapes for biodiversity, especially in the hilly tracts of Northeast India, where forest and agricultural lands are often intertwined and more and more forests are being converted into permanent open cultivation.”