The Biodiversity Mirage: the Effects of Habitat Degradation and Exotic Predators on Ground-Dwelling Forest Birds, Tenrecs and Lemurs in Northeastern Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the world's top conservation priorities due to the intense anthropogenic pressures on its diverse and endemic wildlife. There have been very few studies conducted in the largest protected area complex in Madagascar, the Masoala-Makira landscape (northeastern Madagascar). My goal was to examine the response of ground-dwelling forest birds, tenrecs (Lipotyphla: Tenrecidae) and lemurs to habitat degradation and the presence of exotic predators, and monitor population trends at resurveyed sites from 2008 to 2013. Using camera trap surveys and distance sampling, we observed 26 bird species (n = 4,083 observations), three spiny tenrec species (n = 244 observations) and 12 lemur species (n = 1,172 observations). Out of 13 focal species (seven bird, three tenrec and three lemur species), seven had higher point estimates of occupancy or density at intact forests when compared to intermediately degraded or degraded forest sites. Common tenrecs (Tenrec ecaudatus) and cathemeral lemurs changed their activity patterns, becoming more nocturnal in degraded forests. Feral cat (Felis sp.) trap success was negatively related to the detection of three bird species (red-breasted coua, Coua serriana; scaly ground-roller, Geobiastes squamiger; and Madagascar crested ibis, Lophotibis cristata). At two resurveyed sites (S02 and S05), out of 19 and 17 species, only four and eight species did not show consistent declines in occupancy or encounter rates, respectively, over a six-year period. This research highlights the urgent need for immediate conservation action in the Masoala-Makira protected area complex in order to protect one of the world's biodiversity hotspots.