Do oil palm plantations provide quality habitat for migratory birds? A case study from Mexico

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Habitat loss and degradation represent a major threat to Nearctic-neotropical migratory birds in the tropics. Managed agroecosystems have the potential to mitigate some impacts of land conversion, however, we know little regarding the quality of expanding oil palm plantation habitat for migratory birds in the neotropics. In this study, we used sex and age ratios, body condition, fat deposition, and muscle mass to assess oil palm habitat quality for seven species of migratory songbirds. Specifically, we captured individuals in native forest fragments and oil palm plantations in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, during two winter seasons (2017–2018, 2018–2019), and compared differences in age and sex ratios, and condition indices between habitats. We found that, when differences occurred, most species exhibited indicators of better habitat quality in native forest (older males with higher body condition indices) when compared to oil palm. Our results suggest that age and sex ratios combined with measures of physiological condition can be used to assess habitat quality for Nearctic-neotropical migratory birds overwintering in modified landscapes. Importantly, determining a species’ territorial behavior is key when selecting a given indicator of habitat quality for each species, and in certain cases, more intensive approaches such as estimates of survival, territory size, and food availability may be needed. Our results suggest that management strategies that promote forest-like conditions in oil palm plantations will improve habitat quality for declining populations of Nearctic-neotropical migratory birds.

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Ecological Indicators