Cacao is a small tree from which chocolate is made. It grows at low elevations in tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Like coffee, cacao plants can be grown in the shade of a forest canopy.
A study of shaded cacao plantations in Tabasco, Mexico revealed it to be better than other lowland tropical crops for birds. Many birds that migrate to the tropics for the winter were found on cacao plantations, even those that normally overwinter in forests.
However, resident forest birds were almost completely absent from cacao plantations indicating that it is not a substitute for rain forests and not even as good for birds as shade grown coffee (which is grown at higher elevations).
List of the top ten most common birds found in cacao:
This article summarizes the information in this publication:
Greenberg, Russell S. 2000. The conservation value for birds of cacao plantations with diverse planted shade in Tabasco, Mexico. Animal Conservation, 3: 105-112.
We surveyed birds in cacao (Theobroma cacao) plantations in the state of Tabasco, Mexico. The shade canopy was planted by farmers and consisted of approximately 60 species of trees with no single dominant species. Canopy height averaged 15 m and the structure was multi-storied. We conducted 220 ten minute, 25 m radius point counts for birds and detected 1550 individuals from 81 species. The average number of birds/point and the expected diversity in a fixed number of individuals within the cacao surveyed were well within the range of other lowland habitats, including agricultural sites, that we have surveyed previously in neighbouring Chiapas. In the Tabascan cacao, the migrant group was composed, in part, of forest species, and dimorphic species were represented primarily by males, which in other areas are known to dominate forest or forest-like habitats. In contrast to the composition of migrant species, we found few resident forest specialists in Tabascan cacao. Instead, the tropical resident group was composed of large-bodied generalist species that use small patches of trees in open habitats. These results (moderate diversity, low numbers of forest specialists) differ from the few studies completed in "rustic" cacao systems located near large tracts of forest. The planted shade cacao agroecosystem - at least in the absence of nearby forest - may have a limited value for conserving lost tropical forest bird diversity, but it provides habitat for woodland associated migratory species. Our results also indicate that the planted shade cacao plantations supported few small omnivorous or frugivorous species, probably because cacao itself, as well as the dominant shade trees, produce primarily mammal or wind dispersed fruit and seeds.
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