Forest-type specialization strongly predicts avian responses to tropical agriculture

Jacob B. Socolar, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Species' traits influence how populations respond to land-use change. However, even in well-characterized groups such as birds, widely studied traits explain only a modest proportion of the variance in response across species. Here, we show that associations with particular forest types strongly predict the sensitivity of forest-dwelling Amazonian birds to agriculture. Incorporating these fine-scale habitat associations into models of population response dramatically improves predictive performance and markedly outperforms the functional traits that commonly appear in similar analyses. Moreover, by identifying habitat features that support assemblages of unusually sensitive habitat-specialist species, our model furnishes straightforward conservation recommendations. In Amazonia, species that specialize on forests along a soil-nutrient gradient (i.e. both rich-soil specialists and poor-soil specialists) are exceptionally sensitive to agriculture, whereas species that specialize on floodplain forests are unusually insensitive. Thus, habitat specialization per se does not predict disturbance sensitivity, but particular habitat associations do. A focus on conserving specific habitats that harbour highly sensitive avifaunas (e.g. poor-soil forest) would protect a critically threatened component of regional biodiversity. We present a conceptual model to explain the divergent responses of habitat specialists in the different habitats, and we suggest that similar patterns and conservation opportunities probably exist for other taxa and regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20191724
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1913
StatePublished - Oct 23 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Amazon
  • Birds
  • Conservation
  • Forest
  • Habitat
  • Traits


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