Drivers and spatial patterns of avian defaunation in tropical forests

I Ferreiro-Arias, L Santini, HSSC Sagar, C Richard-Hansen, E Guilbert, PM Forget, M van Kuijk, AB Scabin, CA Peres, E Revilla, A Benítez-López

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Wildlife overexploitation, either for food consumption or for the pet trade, is one of the main threats to bird species in tropical forests. Yet, the spatial distribution and intensity of harvesting pressure on tropical birds remain challenging to quantify. Here, we identify the drivers of hunting-induced declines in bird abundance and quantify the magnitude and the spatial extent of avian defaunation at a pantropical scale.


We compiled 2968 abundance estimates in hunted and non-hunted sites across the tropics spanning 518 bird species. Using a Bayesian modelling framework, we fitted species' abundance response ratios to a set of drivers of hunting pressure and species traits. Subsequently, we applied our model to quantify the spatial patterns of avian defaunation across tropical forests and to assess avian defaunation across biogeographic realms, and for species captured for the pet trade or for food consumption.

Body mass and its interactions with hunter accessibility and proximity to urban markets were the most important drivers of hunting-induced bird abundance declines. We estimated a mean abundance reduction of 12% across the tropics for all species, and that 43% of the extent of tropical forests harbour defaunated avian communities. Large-bodied species and the Indomalayan realm displayed the greatest abundance declines. Further, moderate to high levels of defaunation extended over 24% of the pantropical forest area, with distinct spatial patterns for species captured for the pet trade (Brazil, China and Indonesia) and for food consumption (SE Asia and West Africa).

Main Conclusions
Our study emphasizes the role of hunter accessibility and the proximity to urban markets as major drivers of bird abundance declines due to hunting and trapping. We further identified hotspots where overexploitation has detrimental effects on tropical birds, encompassing local extinction events, thus underscoring the urgent need for conservation efforts to address unsustainable exploitation for both subsistence and trade.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2024


  • abundance
  • bird
  • bushmeat
  • defaunation
  • hunting
  • overexploitation
  • pantropical
  • pet trade
  • poaching
  • wild meat


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