Birds take shelter in sacred forests

In the Himalayan mountains of China, people maintain hundreds of sacred forests as part of their religious practice. Now a new study suggests that birds use these protected patches as refuges when extreme weather hits.

The team studied 62 plots from 2010-11 in China’s northwest Yunnan Province, which contains large rivers and dramatic gorges. The area hosts many unique bird species and offers rest spots for migrating birds. Local Tibetans have marked certain mountains and forest fragments in the region as sacred.

Sacred forests contained a richer collection of bird species than plots near the edges or outside the sacred sites, the researchers report in Biological Conservation. The team saw more birds in the first year of the study; for example, the number of Lady Amherst’s pheasants and Chinese thrushes was about twice as high in 2010. Since the province suffered from drought that year, the researchers speculate that the birds retreated to sacred forests to escape extreme weather. Roberta Kwok | 16 July 2013

Source: Brandt, J.S. et al. 2013. Sacred forests are keystone structures for forest bird conservation in southwest China’s Himalayan Mountains. Biological Conservation doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.06.014.

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