A place without birds is like a desert

“A place without birds is like a desert”: results of an avian biodiversity assessment in Colombia

Consaca, a small municipality nestled in the Andes of southwestern Colombia, is located in one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth: the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. The region has globally unparalleled species richness and endemism, as well as the largest number of bird species in the world, with 1,724 currently identified.

While the ecosystems of Colombia are among the most diverse and unique in the world, they are also highly vulnerable—the Andean valleys of Colombia and Ecuador are considered the most degraded land in the Tropical Andes Hotspot due to land use changes. The Colombia region of the hotspot has the highest population density and greatest economic activity, an important component of which is coffee production. This summer, PUR Projet and a diverse group of collaborators worked to understand how the rich biodiversity of birds in this region can benefit the coffee producers in consaca, making the community and the ecosystem more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

A comparative biodiversity assessment of bird species on farms with shade and sun was conducted to better understand the ecosystem services delivered by birds to different land uses. Preliminary results show that farms with shade support higher species richness of birds, and provide a habitat for a diverse range of insectivorous species which perform a vital role for farmers: pest control. Farmers spend significant time and money controlling insects on their farms in a myriad of ways, from pesticides to searching for insects by hand. The pest control provided by birds has the potential to provide economic benefits to coffee producers over time, especially as the warming climate brings new and invasive species to higher and higher altitudes.

However, not all ecosystem services have a dollar value—throughout the research, the immense role of cultural ecosystem services provided by birds was revealed. Producers use the birds to identify snakes and other dangers on their farms, enjoy listening to the yellow backed oriel sing in the morning, and have a rich history of local names and stories associated with different species. When two yellow-faced cara caras are heard singing, it is considered a sign of marriage. The song of the striped cuckoo means that rain is on the horizon, while a sighting of a yellow backed oriel and a lineated woodpecker together means the rain will pass. Economic benefits are undoubtedly important to the livelihoods of consaca’s producers—but preserving the cultural histories plays an important role in the daily lives and resilience of the community as well.

The study showed a wide range of benefits from biodiversity for the community. However, diversity is not just important in ecology—diversity of opinions, of skills, perspectives and values makes a research team resilient, and this was reflected in the wide range of partnerships and collaborators that participated in the biodiversity assessment. Individuals from ProAves, the University of Oxford, Grupo Galeras, coffee producers, the Federacion de Cafeteros, and Corsavida tree nursery all contributed to the research in unique and vital ways. The process revealed that participation in data collection is important for community empowerment and mutual learning, but it is also necessary to the functioning of project monitoring and evaluation over time. It is important to nurture and encourage diversity, in addition to biodiversity, at all levels of an environmental project. When we do, we are more resilient, more connected, and stronger for it.

PUR Projet team and local partners, Colombia – credits : PUR Projet

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