School of Anthropology & Conservation

Excellence in diversity Global in reach

Simon Mitchell

The value of riparian strips for tropical birds and bats

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Struebig (Main), Dr Zoe Davies, Dr David Edwards (Sheffield)

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Tropical forests support over two-thirds of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity yet globally up to half are degraded. Increasingly, anthropogenic disturbances have resulted in environments dominated by secondary forests, agricultural mosaics and other human-modified habitats, leading to profound changes in biodiversity. Logged forests are increasing considered an important habitat to protect for both ecosystem stability and biodiversity preservation. However, the value of logged forests in preserving tropical biodiversity depends on the landscape scale context. Understanding how factors such as fragment configuration, fragment shape and size, and distance to continuous forest affects communities is therefore vital for landscape planning in order to maximise biodiversity.

A red-naped trogon perched in a riparian reserve

A red-naped trogon perched in a riparian reserve.

My PhD research is focused in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, part of the oil palm producing region of Southeast Asia. Here, degraded forest fragments in the broader oil palm landscape are typically on steep slopes or in protected riparian reserves. Malaysian law mandates the preservation of 30m riparian buffers along all rivers and streams of greater width than 5m. Few studies have examined the role of riparian strips in preserving vertebrate diversity, and most of those in tropical regions have taken place in the Neotropics. I will address this knowledge gap by investigating the value of riparian strips for birds and bats.

Riparian vegetation in an oil-palm plantation

Riparian vegetation in an oil-palm plantation,

My work is based at the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems project ( as part of the NERC-funded research consortium LOMBOK (Land-use Options for Maintaining BiOdiversity and eKosystem functions; As part of the LOMBOK team and in collaboration with the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, I am sampling bird communities in forest patches and continuous habitat over multiple years using visual and audio point counts. I am also sampling bats at the same sites using acoustic monitoring. By generating occupancy models across both taxonomic groups, I aim to elucidate the changes in vertebrate diversity in relation to various configuration and landscape-scale questions, as well as the changes in both bird and bat communities associated with fragmentation, with particular references to riparian buffers.

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A hooded pitta, probably a migrant, having flown into the SAFE camp kitchen.

A hooded pitta, probably a migrant, having flown into the SAFE camp kitchen.

University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship

NERC Human-Modified Tropical Forest Programme (

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Last Updated: 24/11/2016