The importance of agricultural lands for Himalayan birds in winter

Paul R. Elsen, Ramnarayan Kalyanaraman, Krishnamurthy Ramesh, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The impacts of land-use change on biodiversity in the Himalayas are poorly known, notwithstanding widespread deforestation and agricultural intensification in this highly biodiverse region. Although intact primary forests harbor many Himalayan birds during breeding, a large number of bird species use agricultural lands during winter. We assessed how Himalayan bird species richness, abundance, and composition during winter are affected by forest loss stemming from agriculture and grazing. Bird surveys along 12 elevational transects within primary forest, low-intensity agriculture, mixed subsistence agriculture, and intensively grazed pastures in winter revealed that bird species richness and abundance were greatest in low-intensity and mixed agriculture, intermediate in grazed pastures, and lowest in primary forest at both local and landscape scales; over twice as many species and individuals were recorded in low-intensity agriculture than in primary forest. Bird communities in primary forests were distinct from those in all other land-use classes, but only 4 species were unique to primary forests. Low-, medium-, and high-intensity agriculture harbored 32 unique species. Of the species observed in primary forest, 80% had equal or greater abundance in low-intensity agricultural lands, underscoring the value of these lands in retaining diverse community assemblages at high densities in winter. Among disturbed landscapes, bird species richness and abundance declined as land-use intensity increased, especially in high-intensity pastures. Our results suggest that agricultural landscapes are important for most Himalayan bird species in winter. But agricultural intensification—especially increased grazing—will likely result in biodiversity losses. Given that forest reserves alone may inadequately conserve Himalayan birds in winter, comprehensive conservation strategies in the region must go beyond protecting intact primary forests and ensure that low-intensity agricultural lands are not extensively converted to high-intensity pastures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-426
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


  • agricultura
  • agriculture
  • bosque primario
  • cambio en el uso de suelo
  • grazing
  • habitat disturbance
  • land-use change
  • las Himalayas
  • pastoreo
  • perturbación del hábitat
  • primary forest
  • the Himalayas


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