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A particular case and a general pattern: hyperaggressive behaviour by one species may mediate avifaunal decreases in fragmented Australian forests

Authors

  • Scott D. Piper,

  • Carla P. Catterall


S. D. Piper and C. P. Catterall, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Griffith Univ., Nathan, Qld. 4111, Australia (s.piper@griffith.edu.au).

Abstract

We quantitatively assessed edge effects associated with elevated abundance of a hyper aggressive bird species, the noisy miner Manorina melanocephala, in fragmented eucalypt forest adjoining developed land. Long-term data from Toohey Forest, subtropical Australia, show that noisy miner colonies intensively occupy a zone of 20 m from the forest edge, with frequent use occurring up to 100 m from the edge, but little beyond 200 m. Within noisy miner colonies, the abundance and species richness of other birds were both about half those recorded at nearby transects which were outside the colonies' main activity area. Bird species smaller than noisy miners, which are also those with similar diets, were collectively 20–25 times more abundant, and their species richness tenfold greater, outside miner colonies than within them, whereas larger species, which have less dietary overlap, did not differ. Exclusion of small insectivorous birds has been hypothesised to cause elevated insect herbivore density, but we found no difference between tree crown defoliation or dieback rates within versus outside miner colonies.

Aggression by noisy miners can be viewed as a mechanism of interspecific competition, since miners have a relatively large body size for their diet and are hence able to exclude virtually all potential competitors at relatively little cost. We examine evidence indicating that reduced bird diversity in eucalypt forest fragments of eastern Australia is often simply the effect of noisy miner occupancy of edges, acting directly on the densities of other species through their aggressive behaviour. With an edge effect 200 m deep, a remnant 10 ha in size is likely to become entirely occupied by noisy miners, and this is a size threshold that has been commonly reported in association with area-standardised avian diversity reductions. Convergent patterns of species loss from small forest fragments in different continents are the result of different underlying ecological processes.

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