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Habitat fragmentation reduces nest survival in an Afrotropical bird community in a biodiversity hotspot

January 1, 2011

Ecologists have long hypothesized that fragmentation of tropical landscapes reduces avian nest success. However, this hypothesis has not been rigorously assessed because of the difficulty of finding large numbers of well-hidden nests in tropical forests. Here we report that in the East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania, which are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, a global biodiversity hotspot, that daily nest survival rate and nest success for seven of eight common understory bird species that we examined over a single breeding season were significantly lower in fragmented than in continuous forest, with the odds of nest failure for these seven species ranging from 1.9 to 196.8 times higher in fragmented than continuous forest. Cup-shaped nests were particularly vulnerable in fragments. We then examined over six breeding seasons and 14 study sites in a multivariable survival analysis the influence of landscape structure and nest location on daily nest survival for 13 common species representing 1,272 nests and four nest types (plate, cup, dome, and pouch). Across species and nest types, area, distance of nest to edge, and nest height had a dominant influence on daily nest survival, with area being positively related to nest survival and distance of nest to edge and nest height being both positively and negatively associated with daily nest survival. Our results indicate that multiple environmental factors contribute to reduce nest survival within a tropical understory bird community in a fragmented landscape and that maintaining large continuous forest is important for enhancing nest survival for Afrotropical understory birds.