The impacts of forest clearance on lizard, small mammal and bird communities in the arid spiny forest, southern Madagascar

Dawn Scott, D. Brown, S. Mahood, B. Denton, A. Silburn, F. Rakotondraparany

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Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot threatened by forest loss, degradation and fragmentation, all of which are detrimental to the future survival of forest-dwelling organisms. For conservation purposes it is essential to determine how species respond to habitat disturbance, specifically deforestation. In this study we investigated the impacts of deforestation on three vertebrate communities, lizards, small mammals and birds, in an area of spiny forest subjected to anthropogenic forest clearance. Spiny forest has high levels of endemism, but conservation in this unique ecosystem is hindered by the lack of research. We undertook standardised trapping, time-constrained and timed species searches to assess species richness, species abundance and community composition of lizards, small mammals and birds in six areas of ‘forest’ and six ‘cleared’ areas. From surveys and opportunistic sightings we recorded a total of 70 species of birds, 14 species of mammals and 38 species of reptiles and amphibians. We found forest clearing to have a negative effect on species richness and community structure of all groups and identified loss of canopy cover as a driving factor behind this. However, the response and sensitivity to clearing varied between groups and species. Lizards (50%) and small mammals (40%) had the greatest decline in species richness in response to clearing as compared to birds (26%), although birds showed the greatest shift in community structure. The community in cleared areas contained more generalist and introduced species that have wider geographic ranges and habitat preferences, than those unique to the spiny forest. We found the first suite of species to suffer from forest clearance were those of high conservation priority due to their restricted geographic range. Our findings are discussed in relation to future spiny forest conservation and management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-87
Number of pages16
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


  • Deforestation
  • Spiny forest
  • Madagascar
  • Vertebrates
  • Community composition


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