Location: Northern Venezuela
Research: Community Ecology and Conservation of Bird Assemblages in Arid Zones of Northern Venezuela
|In northern Venezuela, arid zones are represented by isolated areas, which are the remnants of a past expanse of arid lands. Several habitat-specialist birds are confined to these arid zones and their long-term survival is threatened by ongoing habitat alteration. Information of population sizes, abundance, habitat use and requirements of most of these species is lacking. Additionally, given their current fragmented geographic distribution, these birds have small and isolated subpopulations restricted to the different arid lands. This research will focus on different spatial scales (local and regional), and will include analyses of ecological, genetic and phylogeographic patterns. This study will provide new and relevant data on bird population sizes and abundances in different areas across northern Venezuela, and will also examine bird-habitat associations with the goal of identifying those habitat variables most important for the survival of the habitat-specialist species. The varied range of distributional patterns of habitat-specialist birds offer an interesting set up to answer questions related to phylogeography and population structure. By using mtDNA analyses of codistributed species spatial information on genetic diversity will be incorporated into a regional biodiversity assessment. Data gathered during this project will be key in developing future sound conservation and management programs, such as the identification of priority areas for conservation that would ensure the long-term survival of this unique bird community. The protection of such areas will contribute, not only to the conservation of bird species, but also to the biodiversity of this highly endangered ecosystem as a whole.
Venezuelan arid zones constitute an especially well suited region for the study of avian communities. This project intended to characterize bird communities inhabiting six arid zones in northern Venezuela by analyzing general patterns of avian species richness, abundance, community composition, and genetic diversity, as well as bird-habitat associations. Information generated and compiled during this project will be used for conservation planning in these regions.
From September 2004 to August 2005, field work was conducted in six arid zones in northern Venezuela (Paraguaná Peninsula, Falcón lowlands, Lara lowlands, Clarines-Piritu region, Araya Peninsula, and Macanao Peninsula). First, three plots (containing 10 point counts each) were established in each area, where six rounds of bird surveys were carried out. Vegetation sampling was conducted in the same 30 points in each of the areas. Mist nets were placed in each area during the visit, and blood and feather samples were collected from target species (buffy hummingbird, vermilion cardinal and black-faced grassquit). Samples were also collected from chicks of the yellow-shouldered parrot taken from natural nests.
Field work was conducted with the help of volunteers (a total of 16 participated during the whole period) and local field assistants hired in each of the study areas. Both volunteers and field assistants were trained in ornithological techniques (mist-netting, taking measurements, banding, and blood collection).
During these months talks were also given in schools located within the sampling areas, and meetings were held with Venezuelan researchers working in some of the study areas, Logistic support was also obtained from governmental agencies (INPARQUES and Ministerio del Ambiente), non-governmental organizations (Provita and Phelps Ornithological Collection) and private land owners.
The field activities generated a large amount of data on bird diversity in Venezuelan arid zones. Especially relevant data included new information on the natural history of the habitat-specialist birds as well as identification of the main threats faced by those species. This information will be particularly useful for conservation planning in the Venezuelan arid zones that is necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the habitat-specialist birds.