Avian Community Response to Lowland Tropical Rainforest Isolation: 40 Years of Change at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Conservation BiologySigel BJ

Since 1960, most of the forest surrounding the La Selva Biological Station, an intensively studied tropical research facility in Costa Rica, has been converted to agricultural uses. We used quantitative censuses and analysis of previously published categorical abundances to assess changes in the bird community, and we evaluated potential causes of species-specific changes by assessing their association with habitat, diet, participation in mixed-species flocks, and nest type. Approximately the same percentage of species increased as decreased in abundance from 1960 to 1999 (10–20 percent of all species, depending on method of assessment). Diet was the single most important trait associated with declining species. At least 50 percent of the species that declined have insectivorous diets. Use of forest habitat and participation in mixed-species flocks were also significant factors associated with declines, but nest type was unrelated to change in abundance. The species that increased in abundance tended to occur in open habitats and have omnivorous diets. These results reinforce the importance of several population risk factors associated with tropical understory insectivory and mixed-species flocking: patchy spatial distribution, low population density, large home range, and dietary specialization. La Selva’s protected area (1611 ha), despite a forested connection on one boundary with a higher elevation national park, is apparently too small to maintain at least one major guild (understory insectivores).

NatureServe Author(s)


  • tbd