Aim To describe variation in forest bird communities with altitude and latitude.
Location Eastern Madagascar.
Methods Extraction of data from forest bird inventories conducted in eastern Madagascar.
Results There is a strong decline in species richness with altitude, above about 1300 m. Below this altitude, species richness is about constant or declines slightly. Seventy-eight percent of species occurring regularly in forest are absent from at least one of low, mid-altitude or high altitude forest. Of eighty-seven species occurring regularly in forest, only four or possibly five have latitudinally limited distributions, over a latitudinal range of over 1200 km. Three or possibly four are limited to the northern two-thirds, and one appears to be at least much more common in the southern half.
Main conclusions Eastern Malagasy rain forest birds show previously unanalysed variation in altitudinal distribution. There is much less latitudinal variation. Species currently considered threatened are concentrated in the lowland and high-altitude zones. This may be at least partly due to lack of survey effort giving the impression that these species are rare, but lowland forests at least are under great human pressure. Bird conservation initiatives would probably have most effect if targeted at lowland east Malagasy rain forest.