A researcher from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) studies the diversity and structure of bird communities in the mangrove forests of Northern Australia in order to identify suitable conservation strategies.

The lead researcher investigates a mangrove robin nest in Charles Darwin National Park, Australia

The lead researcher investigates a mangrove robin nest in Charles Darwin National Park, Australia © Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Mangrove forests are highly threatened ecosystems. Over half of the world’s mangroves have been removed by developers and industry in the last few decades. In addition, mangrove ecology is poorly understood. More in-depth knowledge is needed to increase the effectiveness of conservation strategies, for which funding and resources are often limited.

Mangrove forests tend to exist in habitat ‘patches’ of various sizes as part of a mosaic-like pattern of vegetation across the landscape. Dr Mohd-Azlan and colleagues carried out an ecological study to find out how this mosaic affects bird communities within the mangroves.

First they investigated the effect of patch size. They measured the area of different patches of forest and counted the number of bird species they found within each patch to give a measure of species richness. They found that smaller patches actually supported more bird species than large ones. Furthermore, the bird species richness of several small patches combined was greater than a single large area.

The Little bronze cuckoo is a common species found in mangroves

The Little bronze cuckoo is a common species found in mangroves © Universiti Malaysia Sarawak


They also investigated the effects of different surrounding habitats – and found that this had a significant effect on species richness. Patches surrounded by tropical rainforest had higher species diversity than those surrounded by savannah grassland. Further analysis revealed that of all the species found in mangrove forests,
45 per cent were adapted to the surrounding habitat.

This research shows that the structure of bird communities within mangrove patches is strongly influenced by the surrounding habitat. Dr Mohd-Azlan recommends that mangrove patches be considered as part of a habitat mosaic, and that conservationists focus just as much on small patches as large ones.

For further information contact:

Dr Mohd-Azlan Jayasilan bin Abd Gulam Azad
Faculty of Resource Science and Technology
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
Email: azlan@frst.unimas.my