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Assessment of census techniques for interspecific comparisons of tropical rainforest bird densities: a field evaluation in the Western Ghats, India




Studies comparing different bird censusing methods are useful for assessing relative biases, synthesizing data across studies, and designing bird population monitoring programmes. A field study was carried out in mid-elevation tropical rainforest in the Western Ghats to compare bird density estimates from line transect, point count and territory spot-mapping methods. Interspecific comparisons were made using data for 13 common resident bird species, including two endemics. Variable-width line transect density estimates were highly correlated with, but slightly (17%) higher than, those produced by territory spot-mapping. Although densities from variable-width point counts and spot-mapping were highly positively correlated, the estimates were 95% higher on average in the former. Higher density estimates relative to spot-mapping were produced mainly for the most abundant species, probably due to their mobility and the inclusion of additional individuals that enter the count area during the count period. Fixed-width strip transects and point counts produced density estimates that were highly correlated with, but significantly lower than, variable-width estimates. Wherever possible, territory spot-mapping and line transects are recommended for density estimates; the former may yield additional information on spatial distribution of birds. Fixed-width transects or point counts, being easier to apply, may be used for large-scale monitoring programmes. Interspecific variation in flocking systems and the poor visibility in dense rainforest vegetation indicate the need for care in collection of data on flock size and its variation, which is necessary for estimating the density of individuals. The variation across methods suggests the need for further research using multiple methods across years and marked individuals to verify territoriality and accuracy.