Coffee plantations of Western Ghats sustain high bird diversity

Changing agricultural practices or switching from coffee and areca to monoculture crops such as rubber can seriously damage the ability of agro forests to support birds

Globally, it is recognised that agricultural plantations and agro forests host a diversity of insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and bats. In India’s Western Ghats, small and isolated protected areas are embedded in a matrix of multiple land-uses, most of which include agro forests. These agro forests are being increasingly recognised for their supplementary role in conserving wildlife.

This study evaluated bird diversity in areca, coffee and rubber agroforests, which are the most widely grown plantation crops in Karnataka’s Western Ghats.

The study, ‘Producing Diversity: Agroforests Sustain Avian Richness and Abundance in India’s Western Ghats’ appears in the current edition of Frontiers in Ecology and EvolutionDr Krithi K Karanth (Associate Conservation Scientist, WCS-NY), found that coffee agro forests support higher diversity and abundance birds when compared to areca and rubber, and found 13 endemic bird species. “Large-bodied frugivorous like pigeons and hornbills are found in much higher densities in coffee. These birds play a very important role of seed-dispersal and maintenance of forest trees in the region”, says Shashank Dalvi who is a co-author of the paper and one of the leading ornithologists in the country.

The scientists found a clear positive association of tree density and tree cover in the surrounding areas, on bird diversity. Changing agricultural practices that open-up shade tree canopy or switching from coffee and areca to monoculture crops such as rubber can seriously damage the ability of these agroforests to support birds.

Agroforests of the Western Ghats play a critical supplementary role in conserving India’s birds. The authors note that the biodiversity value of agroforests discovered in the study should be incorporated into future planning and policy decisions to facilitate and promote long-term biodiversity conservation. These scientific results should be integrated with policy and markets so that biodiversity rich agroforests can be incentivized to promote sustainable farming practices that enhance birds in coffee, rubber and areca agro forests.

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