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Ecol Appl. 2008 Jun;18(4):847-58.

Effects of habitat fragmentation and degradation on flocks of African ant-following birds.

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Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum A. Koenig, Adenauerallee 160, D-53113 Bonn, Germany.


Tropical rain forests are rapidly cleared, fragmented, and degraded in sub-Saharan Africa; however, little is known about the response of species and even of key ecological groups to these processes. One of the most intriguing (but often neglected) ecological phenomena in African rain forests is the interaction between swarm-raiding army ants and ant-following birds. Similar to their well-known Neotropical representatives, ant-following birds in Africa track the massive swarm raids of army ants and feed on arthropods flushed by the ants. In this study we analyzed the effect of habitat fragmentation and degradation of a mid-altitude Congo-Guinean rain forest in western Kenya on the structure of ant-following bird flocks. Significant numbers of swarm raids were located in all forest fragments and in both undegraded and degraded forest. Fifty-six different species of birds followed army ant raids, forming bird flocks of one to 15 species. We quantitatively differentiated the bird community into five species of specialized ant-followers and 51 species of opportunistic ant-followers. Species richness and size of bird flocks decreased with decreasing size of forest fragments and was higher in undegraded than in degraded habitat. This was caused by the decrease of the species richness and number of specialized ant-followers at swarms, while the group of opportunistic ant-followers was affected little by habitat fragmentation and degradation. The composition of bird flocks was more variable in small fragments and degraded forest, compared to undegraded habitat in large fragments. The effect of habitat fragmentation on flock structure was best explained by the strong decline of the abundance of specialized ant-followers in small forest fragments. To conserve the association of army ants and ant-following birds in its natural state, vast areas of unfragmented and undegraded tropical rain forest are necessary.

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