Birds in the matrix: The role of agriculture in avian conservation in the Taita Hills, Kenya

Olivia Norfolk*, Martin Jung, Philip J. Platts, Phillista Malaki, Dickens Odeny, Robert Marchant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural conversion of tropical forests is a major driver of biodiversity loss. Slowing rates of deforestation is a conservation priority, but it is also useful to consider how species diversity is retained across the agricultural matrix. Here, we assess how bird diversity varies in relation to land use in the Taita Hills, Kenya. We used point counts to survey birds along a land-use gradient that included primary forest, secondary vegetation, agroforest, timber plantation and cropland. We found that the agricultural matrix supports an abundant and diverse bird community with high levels of species turnover, but that forest specialists are confined predominantly to primary forest, with the matrix dominated by forest visitors. Ordination analyses showed that representation of forest specialists decreases with distance from primary forest. With the exception of forest generalists, bird abundance and diversity are lowest in timber plantations. Contrary to expectation, we found feeding guilds at similar abundances in all land-use types. We conclude that whilst the agricultural matrix, and agroforest in particular, makes a strong contribution to observed bird diversity at the landscape scale, intact primary forest is essential for maintaining this diversity, especially amongst species of conservation concern.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)530-540
Number of pages11
JournalAfrican Journal of Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date24 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Agroforestry
  • Eastern Arc Mountains
  • Forest
  • Functional diversity
  • Land-use change
  • Tropical

Cite this