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Subsistence use of papyrus is compatible with wetland bird conservation

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Biological Conservation
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)414-422
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date18/08/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Conservationists have historically advocated measures that limit human disturbance. Nevertheless, natural disturbances are important components of many ecosystems and their associated species are often adapted to such regimes. In consequence, conservation managers frequently simulate natural disturbance, particularly in temperate forest systems. This practice is less widespread and seldom studied in tropical regions, where biodiversity conservation and human activities are often thought to conflict. However, many tropical systems have been subject to natural and anthropogenic disturbance over evolutionary timescales, and disturbance may therefore
benefit the species they host. Determining whether this is true is especially important in tropical wetlands, where human activities are essential for sustaining local livelihoods. Here we investigate the impacts of disturbance from human resource use on habitat–specialist bird species endemic to papyrus swamps in East and Central Africa. Bird densities were estimated using point counts and related to levels of human activity using physical characteristics of wetland vegetation as a proxy for disturbance. All species were tolerant to some degree of disturbance, with particular species occurring at highest density in intensely disturbed habitat. Species were generally more tolerant to disturbance in larger swamps. Our results suggest that low-intensity use of papyrus wetlands by people is compatible with the conservation of specialist bird species, and highlight the potential benefits of traditional human activities to conserve biodiversity in the tropics.