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Distributional patterns of raptors along altitudinal gradients in the northern Andes and effects of forest fragmentation

  • Jean-Marc Thiollay (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2009

A survey of the diurnal raptor community (46 resident species) at five altitudinal levels from 100 to 4600 m was made in Venezuela using 106 1-km2 sample quadrats and then compared with similar censuses (211 plots) in southwestern Colombia and eastern Ecuador. Six habitat types were defined and habitat preferences were measured from every encountered birds and from the association between individual abundances and the coverage of habitat types on plots. The overall species richness steeply declined with elevation in all three countries. The raptor community consisted mostly of tropical species that rapidly decreased in both abundance and frequency of occurrence with elevation. A small set of subtropical-temperate forest specialists partly replaced them at mid-elevation and only two species occurred in the paramo of Venezuela, against 5–7 in the other countries. Although originally the gradients were probably almost completely covered with forest, a large part of the raptor community is now composed of grassland species, three of them extending from the lowlands to the tree line. The relative impoverishment of the Venezuelan community, especially at upper levels, is attributed to a peninsular effect at the narrow extreme northern tip of the Andes and perhaps also to former forest fragmentation. Within some species, different subspecies had discrete altitudinal distributions and interspecific competition may explain differences in the range extension of some species between countries. Today, however, accelerating deforestation may result in a severe decline of forest-interior species and a probable reduction in the altitudinal range of at least some of them. Species naturally associated with forest gaps or edges usually tolerate a high degree of forest fragmentation and degradation but only one of them may become abundant in heavily human-altered woodlands. Few grassland specialists have become more widely distributed in the increasingly deforested landscapes.

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