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Temperate forest bird communities associated with a historic mining impact area: do tailing remnant effects modify their structure?

Katia Ivonne Lemus, José Fernando Villaseñor-Gómez, Francisco Roberto Pineda-Huerta, Javier Salgado-Ortiz


Birds contribute to the stability of ecosystems and represent a tool used to evaluate a variety of anthropogenic impacts. The area known as El Oro-Tlalpujahua Mining District in central Mexico was subjected to significant environmental impacts as a result of ore extraction, including profound habitat transformations, landscape changes, and the accumulation of potentially toxic elements in their tailings (favoring its bioavailability and dispersion). After more than 60 years without extractive activities, there is no knowledge on extant remaining impacts on biological communities. Assuming the presence of negative impacts on birds, we compared the composition and abundance of bird communities in two locations, representing a site without exposure to tailings (S1) and another one with tailings deposition (S2). From June 2014 to June 2015, we recorded 2828 individuals of 108 avian species in 369 point counts (S1 = 91, S2 = 95). The Chao1 indicator suggested we recorded 96% of the species present. We found a high similarity in the general composition and abundance of bird species between communities (> 85%). However, there were significant differences in the abundances of 18 species (9 of them higher in the control site); these differences might result from differential effects of potentially toxic elements on functional groups (such as feeding guilds), resource availability, as well as other factors not accounted for. Historically, mining activities in the area generated significant changes in the structure and composition of the forest, and disrupted ecological processes. Despite the fact that current conditions appear  favorable to the relative stability of the bird community, specific physiological effects on some species of birds sixty years after the cessation of mineral extraction could occur. Further studies on physiological performance and the effects of potentially toxic elements on local birds could unveil unknown effects at the individual level.

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