Targeted research and restoration for hummingbird conservation:

Making effective conservation and management decisions requires knowledge of how species – and their interactions – respond to human-altered habitats.  The interactions among plants and hummingbirds are the backbone of an important ecosystem process, the pollination of hundreds of vascular plants. Henceforth, hummingbird pollination has biological, ecological, economical, and conservation significance.  Hummingbird-plant interactions may be influenced by on-going land-use change because habitat transformation often influences the abundance and diversity of both trophic groups. We have three approaches to better evaluate the consequences of land–use change on plant-hummingbird interactions. First, we are investigating how habitat degradation might filter species which may result in the loss of trait diversity. Second, we are evaluating possible changes in network structure and the roles of species within these networks. This will allow us to determine which species are important for the maintenance of network stability. Finally, we have conducted experimental tests to determine variation in hummingbird specialization in response to habitat degradation.

We have identified plant species that represent critical nectar resources for endemic and threatened hummingbirds, knowledge that has been critical for leveraging funding for projects aimed at restoring habitat for the Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) in Ecuador. Our current restoration project, implemented by Aves y Conservación, involves the participation of women of the local community of Alambi which is situated at the higher elevations in our study area. In the first stage of the project, up to 5000 plants of 30 species pollinated by hummingbirds have been propagated in a greenhouse built and maintained by Alambi’s women.  Our next step is to initiate habitat restoration in the pastures around the community. The benefits of the project are two-fold. From a conservation perspective the restoration effort with native plants will likely benefit hummingbirds, and especially the Black-breasted Puffleg.  From a social prespect, the project aims to promote sustainable and inclusive economic practices by fostering the participation of women in the development of a local greenhouse where native plants can be propagated and eventually commercialized in local markets.

We have initiated a pilot social science study to understand which factors would influence land-owners willingness to participate in habitat restoration schemes with native plants. In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Roland Olschweski from WSL, we designed a choice experiment in which respondents had to choose whether they will participate in a restoration program if it was implemented as a biodiversity conservation program, avi-tourism program or neither.  We also evaluated how other factors, such as coordination with other land-owners, land area devoted to restoration and recommendations from other farmers or scientists could influence land-owners´ decision to participate or not. Preliminary results indicate that respondents would equally prefer both biodiversity conservation and avi-tourism programs, and participation under an unnamed program was not preferred. The analysis of the additional factors yielded no significant results, but some trends became evident, such as preference for programs when other farmers recommend them. However, coordination with neighbours could be an obstacle at some communities. The results described here are preliminary. However, this pilot study was very helpful to develop a survey methodology, and we expect to extend the study to further sites and land-owners in the future.

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