Native shade trees in coffee plantations are vital for bird diversity and abundance, study finds

“Alteration of the canopy and composition of woody plants may influence the functional composition model of resident birds”

The verdant coffee and tea plantations are more than a perfect backdrop for photos; they support a thriving avian population. In a study that highlights the need to understand patterns and drivers of bird species composition and diversity outside protected area (PA) networks to develop landscape-level conservation strategies, the researchers found that they varied in differently managed plantations.

The results are the result of collaborative work by Kannur University, Kerala, Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru, and Ferns Nature Conservation Society , Wayanad. It was released in July 2021.

Focusing on the coffee plantations of the Western Ghats, which constitute an important agro-ecosystem and help maintain a significant share of regional bird diversity, the researchers compared the composition and functional diversity of resident birds between coffee plantations. shaded and open.

They counted 3,846 birds of 87 species and found that species richness was higher in shade (78 species) than in open coffee plantations (55 species). “Interestingly, 32 species were unique in shade and nine were unique to open coffee plantations, with 46 species found in both types of plantations. Species richness and abundance were highest in shade coffee, ”the study said, adding that the results reveal that different farm management practices can affect the functional richness of birds and their abundance in coffee plantations. . They advocated for the conservation of shade trees of native varieties in coffee plantations to support high functional diversity, richness, and bird abundance in the Western Ghats coffee plantation.

The study, “Resident birds exhibit different patterns in species composition and functional diversity in differently managed coffee plantations in the Western Ghats, India,” was published by the journal Ornithological Science in July 2021.

Talk to The Hindu, Santhanakrishnan Babu, one of the authors, said the study was conducted between May and August 2016, in the northern part of Wayanad district. “Wayanad is a major coffee producer, producing 90% of Kerala’s coffee. Our study aimed to understand how resident birds respond to differently managed coffee plantations – shaded and open, ”he said.

The government of Kerala recently passed an ordinance to cut down all resident trees on private land except sandalwood. This will result in significant cutting of resident trees on coffee plantations, which will affect biodiversity, he added.

Another author, Athira S. Variar and M. Babu, said that conserving shade trees of native varieties in coffee plantations is important to support high functional diversity, richness and abundance of birds. “Shade plantations support many habitat specialists and restricted range birds, and alteration of the canopy and composition of woody plants can influence the pattern of functional composition of resident birds. Since our study covered only one season, a year-round study in these plantations could further shed light on the species composition of resident, nesting and migrating birds, ”they said.

Conservation strategies

They called for conservation strategies at the landscape level. Author Anoop NR pointed out that the Forestry Department has little authority over plantations located outside forest areas and that trees in these plantations are increasingly being replaced by exotic trees such as Grevillea robusta. “To promote the protection of large native trees in coffee plantations, we recommend launching programs to provide financial incentives to private owners. The education programs will also help improve community support to conserve existing native tree varieties and promote the planting of these, ”he recommended, adding that a framework should be developed by regarding which species can be planted and which must be maintained, or removed, from plantations.

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