Assessing the relative importance of isolated Ficus trees to insectivorous birds in an Indian human-modified tropical landscape

The destruction of forest for agricultural expansion has created a vast estate of human-modified land in tropical regions. One group of organisms that are particularly vulnerable to the loss of forest habitat are insectivorous birds. Despite this, few conservation strategies have been identified for this group in human-modified landscapes. We survey the use of 104 isolated trees by insectivorous birds in rural Assam, India. We used an information theoretic model comparison approach to determine the important variables driving insectivorous bird diversity within these isolated trees. Our work demonstrates that the conservation of large trees in human-modified landscapes may play an important role in maintaining bird diversity and ecological function beyond the forest edge. More specifically, we found that isolated Ficus trees hold assemblages with particularly high insectivore abundance, richness and functional diversity when compared to other isolated fruit and large trees. We argue that, where present, Ficus trees should be actively conserved in human-modified landscapes to maintain the composition of insectivore communities in a “Ficus first” strategy.