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Title: The species and functional composition of bird communities in regenerating tropical forests
Author: Mayhew, Rebekah Jane Watts
ISNI:       0000 0004 7431 4424
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2017
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The widespread threat of species extinctions caused by the destruction and degradation of tropical primary forest (PF) could potentially be mitigated by the expansion of regenerating secondary forest (SF). However, the conservation value of SF remains controversial, and is dependent on many site- and landscape-scale factors, such as habitat age and isolation. The aim of this thesis was to assess the role that SF can play in conserving forest bird communities in central Panama. We study a chronosequence of SF aged 20 – 120-years-old, with sites either isolated from or connected to extensive PF. Our results suggest that SF supports high levels of avian species diversity, and similar community composition to PF. Whilst forest age plays a small role in determining compositional similarity to PF, connectivity to extensive PF was the main determinant of community composition. However, despite high species richness and complex community composition, some specialist PF bird species were consistently absent from SF, and isolated PF. The functional diversity of bird communities did not vary substantially across the forest age and isolation gradient, although we did find some inter-guild differences; with distinct responses in communities of avian insectivores and frugivores. Isolation caused shifts in the trophic traits of insectivores, but resulted in alterations in the dispersal traits of frugivores. The response of bird and tree community composition to forest age and isolation was similar, although isolation had a stronger impact on bird communities. Bird diversity and composition tracked changes in forest structure over succession. When examining the role of birds in seed-dispersal networks, we found bird gape width was the key predictor of seed size consumed. Large-gaped birds consume a wider variety of seed-sizes than small-gaped birds, and small-seeded trees attract a greater number of bird species than large-seeded trees. These results imply high levels of redundancy among small-gaped avian frugivores and small-seeded plant species, but low levels of redundancy among large-seeded plant species and their avian dispersers. This suggests that large-seeded plants may be most at risk of dispersal failure following any change in avian frugivore assemblages. Together, these results suggest that SF can play a key role in sustaining most tropical biodiversity, and in maintaining ecosystem services. Our findings emphasise the importance of integrating SF into conservation strategies to support and buffer tropical PF habitats.
Supervisor: Dent, Daisy ; Park, Kirsty ; Tobias, Joseph Sponsor: Carnegie Trust for Universities of Scotland
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Bird communities ; Community structure ; Conservation ; Landscape management ; Land-use change ; Tropical extinction crisis ; Secondary forest ; Regenerating forest ; Panama ; Neotropics ; Functional diversity ; Seed-dispersal networks ; Tree communities ; Forest birds--Tropics ; Seed dispersal by birds ; Rain forest conservation--Panama