Plantation forestry of Alder-leaf Birch (Betula alnoides) affects composition but not interactions of mixed-species bird flocks in southwestern China


Human disturbance impacts mixed-species bird flocks (“flocks”). Unfortunately, the impact on flocks by one large-scale disturbance, plantation forestry, has remained little explored. We examined how plantation forestry of a widespread yet understudied timber species, Alder-leaf Birch (Betula alnoides, “birch”), affects the composition and interactions of flocks in the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot in southwestern China. We conducted transect surveys to sample flocks in birch plantations and natural forests of two age classes (mature and young). While flock size and species richness per flock were similar across land-use types, rarefied species richness accounting for unequal sampling effort was noticeably higher in mature forests. Furthermore, flock composition differed across land-use types, with differences related to species’ morphological characteristics, dietary preferences, and foraging substrates. Specifically, mature forests supported flock participants with large bodies, poor dispersal ability, and a fruit-eating diet. Birch plantations offered equal support to invertivores as both natural forests, and additional support to bark foragers. Lastly, interactions among flocking species quantified by social network metrics were similar across land-use types, suggesting that birch plantations perserved the flocking behavior itself. Our study reveals the conservation potential of birch plantations in supporting invertivorous birds and preserving interactions in flocks. More importantly, it highlights the irreplaceability of mature forests because of their unique species composition. We recommend promoting birch planting without compromising local economies and protecting remnant mature forests through education programs and continued research.

Biological Conservation
Click the Cite button above to import publication metadata into your reference management software.
Miguel Acevedo
Miguel Acevedo
Assistant Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Population Ecology

My research interests include global change, lizard malaria, and quantitative applications for conservation planning.