Saturday Star

Forest-dwelling birds are taking flight, study finds


SOUTH Africa’s forest-dwelling bird species are fast vanishing from some of the country’s few remaining indigenous forests.

This is the main finding of a new study published in Bird Conservati­on Inter national, which revealed the ranges of 28 of the country’s 57 forest-dwelling bird species were plummeting, particular­ly in the Eastern Cape.

The results are based on 25 years of citizen-science data that the Southern African Bird Atlas Project collected.

Researcher­s from Stellenbos­ch University and the Department of Environmen­tal Affairs used data on 57 forest-dwelling species to probe the links between deforestat­ion, species characteri­stics and range declines for these species over the past 20 years.

Indigenous forests comprise less than 1% of South Africa’s landscape, but are home to 14% of terrestria­l birds, many of which are endemic or range-restricted. But these forest patches are highly fragmented from human-induced activities such as plantation­s, with most remaining forests being smaller than one 1km².

Prof Michael Cherry, a behavioura­l ecologist from the university and one of the co-authors of Atlas Data Indicate Forest Dependent Bird Species, said there is concern over the disappeara­nce of forest birds from former homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei in particular because these areas form part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversi­ty hotspot.

“We know some bird species have disappeare­d but do not know whether this implies a decline in population or they are simply moving elsewhere.”

“When a forest is destroyed or becomes degraded, the bigger and stronger bird species can fly elsewhere. But smaller bird species could be stuck if there is not another forest patch within range.”

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