Gebremichael G, Tsegaye D, Bunnefeld N, Zinner D & Atickem A (2019) Fluctuating asymmetry and feather growth bars as biomarkers to assess the habitat quality of shade coffee farming for avian diversity conservation. Royal Society Open Science, 6 (8), p. 190013. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190013
Shade coffee farming has been promoted as a means of combining sustainable coffee production and biodiversity conservation. Supporting this idea, similar levels of diversity and abundance of birds have been found in shade coffee and natural forests. However, diversity and abundance are not always good indicators of habitat quality because there may be a lag before population effects are observed following habitat conversion. Therefore, other indicators of habitat quality should be tested. In this paper, we investigate the use of two biomarkers: fluctuating asymmetry (FA) of tarsus length and rectrix mass, and feather growth bars (average growth bar width) to characterize the habitat quality of shade coffee and natural forests. We predicted higher FA and narrower feather growth bars in shade coffee forest versus natural forest, indicating higher quality in the latter. We measured and compared FA in tarsus length and rectrix mass and average growth bar width in more than 200 individuals of five bird species. The extent of FA in both tarsus length and rectrix mass was not different between the two forest types in any of the five species. Similarly, we found no difference in feather growth between shade coffee and natural forests for any species. Therefore, we conclude our comparison of biomarkers suggests that shade coffee farms and natural forests provide similar habitat quality for the five species we examined.
Royal Society Open Science: Volume 6, Issue 8