Rubber plantations are impermeable to an avian understory specialist in Sri Lanka

Salindra K. Dayananda, Harsha F. Athukorala, Indika Peabotuwage, Chandralal Kumara, Tharindu Ranasinghe, Dhammithra Samarasinghe, Ana Gouveia, Sarath W. Kotagama, Christos Mammides, Aiwu Jiang*, Eben Goodale*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Understanding how landscape characteristics affect animal movement is essential for conservation in human-dominated habitats. A fundamental question is how monoculture agroforests, including rubber and tea plantations, affect wildlife and its movement. Experimental translocations represent an important technique to assess animals’ habitat selection while moving through agricultural matrices, especially when complemented with observations of birds’ natural movements, and with “control” translocations, in which birds are moved within their natural habitat such as forest. Yet, experimental translocations have been little used for birds outside the Western Hemisphere. Methods: We conducted experimental translocations and home-range measurements on an understory forest specialist, Brown-capped Babbler (BCBA, Pellorneum fuscocapillus), and a forest generalist, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (TBFL, Cyornis tickelliae). These species were studied in three rubber plantations, which also included some open areas mostly planted with tea, and in three forest reserves of Sri Lanka. Results: Four of the five BCBAs translocated within disturbed habitats (rubber plantations) could not return to their capture locations. However, all four individuals within undisturbed habitats (forest reserves) successfully returned to their point of origin within 10.5 daytime hours. In contrast, all TBFLs returned to their capture locations in both disturbed (n = 7) and undisturbed habitats (n = 3) within 11.3 daytime hours. A Cox-proportional survival model demonstrated that the percentage of rubber cover decreased return time, similar to the effect of open-area cover. The home range surveys (n = 13 for BCBA, n = 10 for TBFL) revealed that very little of the birds’ natural home-ranges was covered by rubber (0.2% for BCBA, 13.1% for TBFL at 50% Kernel Density Estimates KDE). Home range size for BCBA was approximately half the size in disturbed habitats compared to undisturbed ones, although there was no significant difference between habitats for TBFL. Conclusions: We conclude that rubber plantations can be impermeable to understory habitat specialist birds, and even generalist species may avoid them long-term. Our findings highlight the potential utility of strips of native vegetation, particularly those featuring understory layers, as corridors to facilitate the movement of forest specialists in landscapes dominated by rubber plantations and other types of disturbed habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number47
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Bird movements
  • Habitat connectivity
  • Landscape ecology
  • Radio telemetry
  • Sri Lanka
  • Translocations
  • Understory birds


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