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Forest-dependent bird communities of West African cocoa agroforests are influenced by landscape context and local habitat management
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment  (IF5.567),  Pub Date : 2022-01-11, DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2021.107848
F.J. Sanderson, P.F. Donald, A. Schofield, P. Dauda, D. Bannah, A. Senesie, M.S. Konneh, T.W. Swinfield, M.F. Hulme

We undertook nearly 300 point counts of birds in cocoa plantations around Gola Rainforest National Park, eastern Sierra Leone, to assess how their vegetation structure, management and landscape context influence bird communities and the distribution of four globally threatened or forest-restricted species. Forest bird species richness, and the occurrence of Yellow-casqued Hornbill (Ceratogymna elata), were higher in abandoned than in actively managed cocoa farms. Yellow-casqued Hornbill presence was also associated with higher canopy volume and Brown-cheeked Hornbill (Bycanistes cylindricus) was associated with greater forest cover in the surrounding landscape. Overall forest bird species richness was associated with the interaction between canopy volume and proportion of forest in the surrounding landscape. Our results indicate that where forest cover is low in the landscape, low-intensity cocoa agroforestry can provide compensatory habitat for forest bird species, but when forest cover is high, cocoa that is more forest-like in structure may not lead to increased bird species richness, although it may benefit certain species. Most habitat structure variables, other than canopy volume and openness of understorey, were poor predictors of most of the variables analysed, suggesting that within the narrow range of observed production intensity, management has little impact on bird communities once productivity increases above zero by rehabilitating abandoned farms. However, over 60% of the species recorded and over half of all recorded detections were of biome-restricted species, suggesting that low-intensity cocoa plantations hold considerable conservation value. Changes in cocoa management may therefore impact those species.