• biodiversity conservation;
  • extinctions;
  • fragmentation;
  • habitat loss;
  • management;
  • tropics


The impacts of tropical deforestation and forest degradation on SE Asia's biotas have been documented, but a quantitative synthesis is currently lacking. We examined the responses of biodiversity to anthropogenic forest disturbance by comparing key ecological attributes between undisturbed and neighboring disturbed forests. Based on data from four taxonomic groups (vascular plants, invertebrates, birds, and mammals), six broad measures of ‘ecological health’ (e.g., richness, abundance, and demographics), and a range of different impact types from 120 articles published, we calculated the proportion of pairwise comparisons in which the measure of ecological health was lower in impacted than in pristine sites, as would be expected if forest disturbance was detrimental. The explanatory power of correlates of disturbance sensitivity was assessed using an information-theoretic evaluation of a candidate set of generalized linear models (GLMs). Overall, 73.6 percent (95% CI = 70.8–76.2%) of 1074 pairwise comparisons supported the expectation that forest disturbance was detrimental to ecological health, with mammals being the most sensitive group. The median effect size was for pristine areas to have 22.2 percent higher ecological health than equivalent disturbed areas. The most responsive measure of ecological health was species richness (median = 28.6% higher in pristine), and agricultural areas were the most ecologically degraded (median = 35.6% higher in pristine). However, the GLMs revealed no marked differences overall between taxonomic groups, habitat impact types, or ecological health measures. Our finding implies that the sensitivity of biodiversity to forest disturbance is moderately high, but essentially universal, suggesting urgent forest conservation actions.