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Keywords:

  • Agriculture;
  • deforestation;
  • mixed-rural habitats;
  • South-East Asia;
  • tropical rainforest

ABSTRACT

Clearance of tropical forest for agricultural purposes is generally assumed to seriously threaten the survival of forest species. In this study, we quantified the conservation value, for forest bird species, of three degraded habitat types in Peninsular Malaysia, namely rubber tree plantations, oil palm plantations, and open areas. We surveyed these degraded habitats using point counts to estimate their forest bird species richness and abundance. We assessed whether richness, abundance, and activities of different avian dietary groups (i.e. insectivores and frugivores) varied among the habitats. We identified the critical habitat elements that accounted for the distribution of forest avifauna in these degraded habitats. Our results showed that these habitats harboured a moderate fraction of forest avifauna (approximately 46–76 species) and their functions were complementary (i.e. rubber tree plantations for moving; open habitats for perching; shrubs in oil palm plantations for foraging). In terms of species richness and abundance, rubber tree plantations were more important than oil palm plantations and open habitats. The relatively high species richness of this agricultural landscape was partly due to the contiguity of our study areas with extensive forest areas. Forecasts of forest-species presence under various canopy cover scenarios suggest that leaving isolated trees among non-arboreal crops could greatly attract relatively tolerant species that require tree canopy. The conservation value of degraded habitats in agricultural landscapes seems to depend on factors such as the type of crops planted and distance to primary forest remnants.