Diversity of birds in oil palm monoculture

Diversity of birds in oil palm monoculture

22 April 2021 | Duration of reading: 4 min

By Sara Miranda Almeida

With more than 1,300 species, the Amazon is the region with the largest number of bird species in the world! Birds are important organisms for the ecosystems they inhabit, acting in the dispersion of seeds, pollination, flow of nutrients and control of insect and rodent populations (see the figure below). Thus, they provide important ecosystem services, which consist of benefits that human beings derive from natural environments, many of which are of fundamental importance for well-being, health, livelihood and survival (see more about ecosystem services in this article).

          Traditionally, scientists measure biodiversity through ecological indexes, and counting the number of species in a particular area (species richness) is one of the first steps for the elaboration of ecological studies. More recently, functional diversity has come to be widely used to investigate biodiversity responses to environmental changes. This measure is calculated from certain characteristics of organisms that may vary according to the environment in which they live. These characteristics, also called traits or functional traits, can be morphological, physiological, behavioural, among others.

Contribution of birds to ecosystem services. A) Frugivory and seed dispersal by the Pavonine QuetzalPharomachrus pavoninus), B) Pollination by hummingbirds (in the photo the Reddish Hermit, Phaethornis ruber), C) Removal of carrion by vultures (Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes burrovianus ), D) control of insect populations by the Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos) e E) by the Blue-cheeked Jacamar (Galbula cyanicollis); F) Control of small mammal populations by the Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata). Photos: Sara Miranda Almeida.

          For birds, the type of resources consumed in the diet of each species (e.g. seeds, fruits, leaves, invertebrates, vertebrates), body mass (which indicates the amount of food required for a given individual), beak shape (related to the type of food consumed), as well as the foraging stratum (a place to search for food, such as the ground or canopy of a forest), are examples of traits often used to measure functional diversity. When describing bird species through their functional attributes, we can classify and compare groups of species by their “diversity of functions” in a given location or region. To do that, ecological information like the ones mentioned above are combined with the species occurrence data to calculate the functional diversity. In this way, we can assess, for example, the impact of environmental changes in different bird communities (click here to understand the concept of communities in ecology).

          Together with other researchers from the Biosciences Institute of the Universidade Federal do Pará – UFPA, I evaluated the impact of the oil palm plantation (Elaeis guineensis) on the functional diversity of birds in the municipality of Tailândia, northeastern state Pará, Brazilian Amazon. Palm oil has been widely used in the food and cosmetics industry, and also in the production of biodiesel. We verified what are the ecological characteristics that make a bird more or less prone to disappear or occupy an area if the forest is replaced by an oil palm monoculture. 

Oil palm plantation and a forest area in the municipality of Tailândia, state of Pará, Brazil. Photos: LABECO-UFPA and Fernanda de Carvalho Barros, respectively.

          We found that species that feed on fruits or nectar were among the most likely to be absent in the plantation areas. On the other hand, birds that feed on seeds (grass seeds, for example) and that forage on the ground have benefited from monoculture. The number of bird species was three times lower in the monoculture areas when compared to the forest areas, and the functional diversity was twice lessin oil palm plantation. Our main conclusion with this research was that oil palm monoculture reduced the diversity of birds, both in number of species and ecosystem functions. In addition, we emphasize the importance of forest areas in Tailândia municipality for the conservation of wild birds and for the maintenance of ecosystem services.


Science is done collaboratively

        The results presented in this text are part of the research carried out by Sara Miranda Almeida during her doctorate in the Graduate Program in Zoology at the Universidade Federal do Pará under supervision of Marcos Pérsio Santos. This research had the financial support of the federal government through a CAPES grant.

Want to know more? Access the links below!

Laboratório de Biologia da Conservação e Macroecologia da UFPA (InstagramFacebookTwitter

Almeida, S. M.,  Silva, L. C., Cardoso, M. R., Cerqueira, P. V., Juen, L., Santos, M. P. D. (2016). The effects of oil palm plantations on the functional diversity of Amazonian birds. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 32: 510-525. (Link)

De Groot, R., Brander, L., Van Der Ploeg, S.,  et al. (2012). Global estimates of the value of ecosystems and their services in monetary units. Ecosystem services, 1(1): 50-61. (Link)

Sara Miranda Almeida is biologist and Master in Ecology and Conservation (UNEMAT) and PhD in Zoology (UFPA). See more on Lattes and ResearchGate