Trophic position determines the persistence of neotropical understory birds after forest disturbance

Bernhard Paces (Corresponding author), Wolfgang Wanek, Christian Voigt, Saskia Schirmer, Paulus Leidinger, Christian Schulze

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Habitat loss and degradation are key drivers of the current biodiversity crisis. Most research focuses on the question of which traits allow species to persist in degraded habitats. We asked whether a species' trophic position or niche width influences the resilience of species in degraded habitats and to what extent habitat degradation af- fects trophic interactions between species. We used nitrogen isotope ratios (15 N:14 N, expressed as δ15 N value) to quantify and compare trophic positions and niche widths of understory birds inhabiting old-growth and young secondary forests in the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica. We found that a species' trophic position rather than its trophic niche width determined its persistence in secondary forests. Species feeding at lower trophic levels in old-growth forests were less likely to persist in secondary forests than those occupying a higher trophic position in old-growth forests. This pattern is likely induced by the occurrence of relatively large-bodied habitat specialists with a flexible and high-trophic level diet in secondary forests. These habitat specialists likely caused generalist bird species to lower their trophic position relative to conspecifics in old- growth forests. Regarding trophic niche widths, species in secondary forests tend to have larger niche widths than old-growth forest species. However, as old-growth for- est specialists and generalists did not differ in their niche widths, no systematic effect of trophic niche width on species persistence after forest disturbance was found. This is the first study that shows a systematic effect of trophic position on the persistence of a wide range of bird species in a disturbed forest ecosystem. It therefore provides important insights into species' responses to habitat degradation and the conservation value of secondary forests. To improve habitat quality for old-growth forest birds and facilitate avian seed dispersal, the creation of large contiguous forest patches should be prioritised when implementing reforestation measures.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11370
Number of pages15
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 107006 Nature conservation
  • 106047 Animal ecology
  • 106003 Biodiversity research
  • 106054 Zoology


  • forest disturbance
  • secondary forest
  • stable isotope analysis
  • trophic niche width
  • trophic position
  • understory bird species

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