Context. The increase in density of large tree species, Vachellia robusta and V. tortilis, in the Serengeti Ecosystem of Tanzania has resulted in a decline of small tree species Senegalia senegal, V. hockii, Commiphora spp. This change has occurred since the late 1970s, a consequence of an increase in wildebeest following the extirpation of rinderpest, which reduced the dry grass fuel for fires, resulting in low fire frequencies. Change in tree species raises the question of whether there are indirect consequences for the avifauna that depend on the large trees for food and nesting.
Aims. To determine how an increase in large mammals could influence diversity and distribution of avifauna communities in the Serengeti ecosystem woodlands.
Methods. Data used to estimate changes in density of large and small trees were measured by Point Centre Quarter (PCQ). Bird species were recorded in 19 small-tree sites and 18 large-tree sites in the Serengeti National Park. Richness of bird guilds was calculated in the two habitat complexes (small and large trees), and the ‘rarefaction’ method was used to assess the difference in richness in habitats of the study area. Mean abundance for each species was calculated over the total number of sites for each habitat and compared using the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test to examine how the abundance of avifauna changes with each habitat type.
Key results. There was an increase in the density of large trees in some areas in which they have replaced the original small trees. Such changes have resulted in greater richness of hole nesters and bark feeders, and a greater abundance of large-hole nesters and gleaner bird species.
Conclusions. Because the increase in tree density was caused by an increase in large mammals, we conclude that this increasing mammal population is indirectly increasing richness and abundance of birds using the trees.
Implications. Understanding the influence of large mammal populations on bird distributions has important conservation implications because the Serengeti ecosystem is classified as an important, endemic bird area.