Seasonal patterns of spatial variation in understory bird assemblages across a mosaic of flooded and unflooded Amazonian forests

  • Pedro Beja
  • Carlos David Santos
  • Joana Santana
  • Maria João Pereira
  • J. Tiago Marques
  • Hélder Lima Queiroz
  • Jorge M. Palmeirim
Original Paper


We examined seasonal patterns of spatial variation in understory bird assemblages across a mosaic of upland and floodplain forests in central Amazonia, where variation in flooding patterns and floodwater nutrient load shapes a marked spatial heterogeneity in forest structure and composition. Despite great differences in productivity due to flooding by either nutrient-rich “white waters” (várzea) or nutrient-poor “black waters” (igapó), bird assemblages in the two floodplain forest types were relatively similar, showing lower abundances than adjacent upland forests (terra firme) and sharing a set of species that were absent or scarce elsewhere. Species that breed in pensile nests overhanging water were abundant in floodplain forests, whereas species that feed on the ground were generally scarce. Flooding affected assemblage dynamics in floodplain forests, with some influx of ground-dwelling species such as ant-following birds from adjacent upland during the low-water season, and the occupation by riverine and aquatic species such as kingfishers during floods. Spatial configuration influenced the seasonal pattern of assemblage structuring, with movements from terra firme occurring primarily to adjacent igapó forests. No such influx was detected in várzea forests that were farther from terra firme and isolated by wide river channels. Results support the view that habitat heterogeneity created by flooding strongly contributes to maintain diverse vertebrate assemblages in Amazonia forest landscapes, even in the case of largely sedentary species such as understory forest birds. Including both upland and floodplain forests in Amazonia reserves may thus be essential to preserve bird diversity at the landscape scale.


Amazonia Brazil Conservation Floodplain forests Neotropical forests Igapó Resource tracking Terra firme Várzea 



This study was funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, through grants SFRH/BD/19629/2004 to MJP, SFRH/BD/22829/2005 to JTM, and POCI/BIA-BDE/60710/2004 to the research project, and by the Fundação Gulbenkian through grant 89185 to CDS. We thank the Brazilian Ministério de Ciências e Tecnologia and Ministério do Meio Ambiente for permissions to do this research, and the Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável de Mamirauá and its staff, especially M. Marmontel, J. Valsecchi and A. Nunes, for logistical assistance. We are very grateful for support from the local communities and the field assistance by Jerry, José Penha, Bento, Deusa, Otávio, Gilmar, Jesui, Raimundo, Sineca, António, Manuel, Gladson, and Rosinaldo. We also thank P. Santos for advice in study planning, L. Reino, C. Miranda and N. Castanheira for help in field work, M. Dias for help with Fig. 1, and T. Haugaasen for critical reading of the manuscript. We thank the thorough review of the manuscript by the associate editor and two anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro Beja
    • 1
    • 2
  • Carlos David Santos
    • 1
    • 3
  • Joana Santana
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maria João Pereira
    • 3
  • J. Tiago Marques
    • 3
  • Hélder Lima Queiroz
    • 4
  • Jorge M. Palmeirim
    • 3
  1. 1.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Campus Agrário de VairãoUniversidade do PortoVairãoPortugal
  2. 2.ERENALisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Faculdade de CiênciasUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável MamirauáTeféBrazil

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