Effects of forest fragmentation on feather corticosterone levels in an Amazonian avian community
Published: Volume 67.2, July 2020. Pages 229-245.
In the Amazon, the construction of hydroelectric dams is an emergent driver of biodiversity loss, creating numerous land-bridge islands, most of them unable to sustain an assemblage of bird species comparable to the intact forest. Although we understand the effects of forest fragmentation on species richness and distribution, we still need to uncover the physiological mechanisms underlying the success of organisms living in disturbed habitats. In this study, we used feather corticosterone levels as a measurement of physiological indicators of stress, evaluating whether corticosterone levels mirror the effects of habitat fragmentation on species occurrence. Since data suggest that smaller islands can reduce habitat suitability, increasing stress in birds that live within them, we predicted that birds living in smaller islands would present increased feather corticosterone levels. We captured birds in 13 islands of varying size and in two continuous forests and analysed feather corticosterone levels of 265 individuals from eight different species. Overall, our findings did not support the hypothesis that corticosterone varies in relation to island size, except for the Guianan Antwarbler Hypocnemis cantator, which presented the predicted pattern: decreasing feather corticosterone levels with increasing island size. These differences suggest that species respond differently to stressors driven by fragmentation. Further studies are necessary to assess the reliability of corticosterone levels as a physiological measurement of stress and to determine which parameters are useful to understand how insularisation caused by human activities may influence the resistance of avian populations to habitat disturbances.