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The effects of fragment size and degree of isolation on avian species richness in highly fragmented forest in West Africa

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S Manu, W Peach, Will Cresswell

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Almost nothing is known of the effects of forest fragmentation on bird diversity within the heavily degraded and fragmented forest remnants in West Africa. We examined the effects of edge, fragment size and isolation on bird species richness in southwestern Nigeria where forest fragmentation is pronounced. In total, 122 km of line transects were used to survey birds and vegetation within 45 forest patches between January 2000 and March 2002: 197 species were recorded. Avian species number and total counts in forest patches were unrelated to fragment area (within the observed range of 14-445 ha), but were negatively influenced by degree of isolation and increasing distance from the edge. As the total area of forested land within 15 km of a patch fell from 4 to 0%, so 21% of species were lost. In total, six and zero species (of 154 recorded more than once) were consistently recorded in the larger and smaller forest fragments, respectively, and four and two bird species were consistently recorded in unisolated and isolated forest fragments, respectively, suggesting that the addition of 'edge' species did not compensate for loss of species sensitive to fragmentation. Diversity index was not affected by either fragment area or degree of isolation, but decreased with distance from the edge. When individual species counts were considered, 68% of species (n = 62) showed no significant effect of distance to edge. Of those 20 species which showed an effect, 12 were less common close to the edge. Most species (65%) did not respond significantly to increasing isolation but of those 22 species that did, 20 were less common in more isolated fragments. Ninety-seven per cent of species showed no significant response to area. As avian diversity and species composition, but not species number, were apparently insensitive to forest fragmentation, our findings suggest that fragmentation reduces the probability of occurrence of a wide range of West African bird species, rather than a subset of fragmentation-sensitive species. The greater apparent sensitivity of present-day West African forest bird communities to fragmentation rather than patch size might reflect previous extinctions of area-sensitive species. Minimizing further forest fragmentation might be the most effective means of conserving avian diversity in current West African landscapes where most remaining forest patches are small (i.e. < 500 ha).



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-297
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007

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