This paper describes changes in bird communities following the conversion of lowland forest to commercial oil palm and rubber plantations. Conversion of forest to plantations resulted in a reduction in species richness of at least 60%, with insectivores and frugivores suffering greater losses than more omnivorous species. Of the 128 species recorded across all habitats, 84% were recorded in forest, and 60% were recorded only in that habitat. Of the 16 Globally Threatened or Near-Threatened species recorded in the study, 15 were recorded only in forest. Species occurring in plantations were significantly more widespread in Thailand than species recorded only in forests and had a tendency towards smaller body size. Species richness in plantations was unaffected by plantation age or distance from nearest forest edge, but was significantly greater where undergrowth was allowed to regenerate beneath the crop trees. Bird communities in oil palm and rubber plantations were extremely similar, and there was a strong positive correlation across species in their relative abundance in each plantation type. The results indicate that a high proportion of species formerly present in the region are unable to adapt to conversion of forest to oil palm and rubber plantations, resulting in large losses of bird species and family richness and the replacement of species with restricted ranges and high conservation status by those with extensive ranges and low conservation status. Initiatives that reduce pressure to clear new land for plantations, for example by increasing productivity in existing plantations and improving protected area networks, are likely to be more effective in conserving threatened forest birds than initiatives to improve conditions within plantations, though both should be encouraged.
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