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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Losing woodcreepers, iconizing manakins, and despising grackles : understanding human-bird relationships in agro-ecological landscapes Echeverri Ochoa, Alejandra


Although the interconnectedness of humans and the environment has long been recognized, the ecological and social dimensions of biodiversity have been largely treated separately. In this dissertation, I explore human-bird relationships in Costa Rican agro-ecological landscapes via an interdisciplinary perspective. I do so by exploring four research questions through four complementary studies and three original datasets. I seek to better understand how human-induced changes to the environment shape avian biodiversity patterns, and how birds affect people via the non-material benefits and harms derived from and constructed with birds (i.e., cultural ecosystem services and disservices). Using avian point counts in North-western Costa Rica (n=150 point count locations) that expand through a rainfall gradient, I first explore how avian taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity vary across precipitation and tree cover gradients at local scales (i.e., alpha diversity). Drawing on methods from community ecology and global change ecology, I explain how the three dimensions of avian biodiversity show contrasting responses across environmental gradients. Second, I explain how different stakeholders in North-western Costa Rica perceive the avifauna of the region (n=199 species). I develop a new survey tool to capture bird-related cultural ecosystem services and disservices. I show how certain species (e.g., Long-tailed Manakin) are cherished while others are despised (e.g., Great-tailed Grackles). Third, I compiled an extensive dataset of functional traits (n=20 functional traits) that include morphological, acoustic, aesthetic, ecological, and life-history traits for all species. I analyze these data using an information-theoretic approach to identify which traits best predict cultural ecosystem service and disservice scores. I show that diet, forest-affiliation, and plumage characteristics are significant predictors of how people perceive avian species. Fourth, I combine the ecological and social data to explore how culturally important birds vary across tree cover and precipitation gradients. I also evaluate the spatial distribution patterns of highly charismatic species and show that local forest cover, particularly in wetter regions is essential for safeguarding culturally important birds. Finally, I discuss how human-bird relationships represent a testing ground for evaluating relationships between humans and the non-human world from a variety of academic perspectives and provide recommendations for conservation planning.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International