Migratory bird community structure in oil palm (Elaies guineensis) plantations and native forest fragments in southern Mexico

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Oil palm (Elaies guineensis) plantations are among the fastest growing agroecosystems in the Neotropics, but little is known about how Neotropical birds use oil palm habitats. To better understand the potential value of oil palm as an overwintering habitat for migratory birds, we surveyed birds in oil palm and native forest remnants in Tabasco, Mexico, from 19 December 2017 to 27 March 2018. We collected data on bird abundance and vegetative structure and used generalized linear models and multivariate analysis to assess how oil palm development influenced migrant bird diversity, community assemblages, and abundance. We found that species richness of migratory birds tended to be higher in forest patches than in oil palm, that community assemblages of migratory birds differed between native forest and oil palm plantations, and that differences in migratory bird abundance, and subsequent changes in community assemblages were driven by differences between native forest and oil palm plantations in vegetative structure. The bird community of native forest was characterized by migrant species sensitive to forest loss that forage low in the understory and in the leaf litter, whereas the bird community of oil palm plantations was represented by generalist species that occupy a wider range of foraging niches. Our results suggest that most species of migrant birds responded positively to several forest structural features and that integrating more native trees and increasing the amount of understory vegetation in oil palm plantations may increase the value of working landscapes for migratory birds.

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© 2021 Association of Field Ornithologists. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1111/jofo.12354

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Journal of Field Ornithology