Avian species richness in traditional rice ecosystems: a case study from upper Myanmar

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Steven G. Platt
Myo Min Win
Naing Lin
Swann Htet Naing Aung
Ashish John
Thomas Rainwater


Rice Oryza sativa ecosystems provide foraging and nesting habitat for a variety of birds. Myanmar is a major rice-producing nation and yet bird use of rice ecosystems remains largely unstudied. We present the results of a case study of avian species richness in a traditional rice ecosystem at Limpha Village in upper Myanmar. The rice field at Limpha occupies 17.5 ha where a single crop is produced each year without chemical inputs (fertilizer and pesticides). Village lands are contiguous with the buffer zone of Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary. We conducted bird surveys of the rice field during dry and wet seasons (2013–20) and documented the occurrence of 85 species (exclusive of Buttonquail these included 58 resident species, 20 migratory species, six species with both resident and migratory populations in upper Myanmar), including 10 species of conservation concern. Species richness was greatest during the dry season when an influx of Palearctic migrants was present. We ranked 52 species as Common, 23 as Uncommon, and 10 as Rare. Most birds used the rice field as foraging rather than breeding habitat. Insectivore was the most common feeding guild (43 species), followed by Omnivore (22 species), Carnivore (12 species), Granivore (6 species), Frugivore (1 species), and Nectarivore (1 species) guilds. We observed eight species associated with domestic Water Buffalo Bubalus bubalis and 15 species foraging at active fires or in burned areas in the rice field. Piles of rice straw are important foraging sites for several species. Low intensity agricultural practices, habitat heterogeneity, and proximity to the nearby swamp, forest, & Chindwin River are probably responsible for the relatively high avian species richness at Limpha. Future agricultural intensification could negatively impact avian species richness in the Limpha rice field. Our findings suggest that traditional rice agriculture is compatible with conservation objectives in the buffer zone of Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary. Our study, however, requires replication before generalizations can be made concerning the value of traditional rice ecosystems to avian conservation in Myanmar. 

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