IISc study in Arunachal Pradesh reveals how logging and climate change impact montane birds

The team found that many bird species have started shifting to higher elevations due to rising temperatures

January 05, 2024 02:06 pm | Updated 02:06 pm IST - Bengaluru

The IISc. team collected data from the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, which is situated in the biodiversity hotspot of Eastern Himalayas and is home to over 500 bird species.

The IISc. team collected data from the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, which is situated in the biodiversity hotspot of Eastern Himalayas and is home to over 500 bird species.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) in Bengaluru have found that logging and climate change pose a threat to montane birds. They studied the effects of forest logging and climate change on bird communities in tropical mountains, by examining over 10 years of data.

In a study published in Global Ecology and Conservation, the team used mist netting and bird ringing data to understand how the composition of the mid-elevation Eastern Himalayan understorey bird community changed in primary (undisturbed) forests as well as in logged forests.

Tropical montane forests are unique ecosystems that can start at about 150-200 metre elevation, and reach up to 3,500 metre high up on mountains around the world. They are critical centres of biodiversity.

“In tropical mountains, each species has a particular niche where it is found. This restriction creates much more diversity in a small space,” said Ritobroto Chanda, former Project Associate at the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), IISc., and corresponding author of the study.

Forest loss and climate change are major threats to these ecosystems.

A yellow-throated fulvetta with metal and colour rings.

A yellow-throated fulvetta with metal and colour rings. | Photo Credit: Micah Rai

“Birds, and indeed much of the flora and fauna of tropical mountain ranges, are extremely temperature-sensitive, and are responding to global heating rapidly. Also, most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity is concentrated in tropical mountains,” said Umesh Srinivasan, Assistant Professor at CES.

The team found that many bird species have started shifting to higher elevations due to rising temperatures.

Logged forests have higher average temperatures and lower humidity than primary forests, thus hastening the transition.

Additionally, birds that are smaller in size seem to colonise these logged forests better because they can tolerate higher temperatures while the density of larger bird species appears to be increasing in the primary forests.

The team collected data from the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, situated in the biodiversity hotspot of Eastern Himalayas and home to over 500 bird species.

The area saw intensive logging until 2002, and the logged regions have major differences compared to intact forests, making them ideal for the study.

Each day, after setting up the mist nets, the team checked them every 20-30 minutes, weighed and labelled the birds, and released them immediately.

A Chestnut-headed Tesia being ringed

A Chestnut-headed Tesia being ringed

Out of the 6,189 captured individuals from 130 species, the final analysis included 4,801 understorey insectivores – insect-eating birds that live under the canopy of large trees – belonging to about 61 species.

What the team found was that logging can lead to the loss of large-bodied, old, growth-dependent species, and decrease the overall biodiversity. Understorey insectivores, which are often found only in specific niches, are negatively influenced by logging and show steep decline in numbers.

Logged forests also have lower densities of foliage-dwelling insects, reducing the resource availability for the birds. Since large species have higher energy requirements, this disproportionately reduces the abundance of large species.

The study highlights the need to safeguard primary forests in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

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