Save hornbills, for they are the gardeners of tropical forests: Study

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What is the News?

Scientists from two organisations studied how fruiting plants and hornbills influenced each other’s distribution in the Namdapha Tiger Reserve. 

Hornbills and their importance

Hornbills are of prime importance since they have a symbiotic relationship with several canopy trees in tropical forests. 

They are attracted to such trees for food and in turn, they scatter their seeds, creating orchards.

Example: The forest patches that have rare trees, like Canarium, attract hornbills in large numbers. In turn, hornbills end up dispersing seeds of a diverse array of plant species in higher numbers in these patches with some of these hornbill food trees. In the longer term, this likely create orchards that continue attracting hornbills.

What is the significance of this study?

The study strengthens the popular image of hornbills being gardeners or farmers of the forest, demonstrating that they farm their own food-rich patches through their seed dispersal.

About Hornbills

Hornbills get their name from the horn-like structure on the top of their beak—the casque. 

Habitat and Range: Hornbill distribution is globally limited to Sub-Saharan Africa, Indian-Subcontinent, Philippines, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. In India, they are found in the Western Ghats and the northeastern states.

Diet: Hornbills are one of the biggest frugivores (fruit-eating birds) in the Asian rainforest. Around 40-70%  of their diet consists of large ficus fruits, figs, drupes and berries, usually red or black in colour. 

Types of Hornbills: India is home to nine species of Hornbill. These species are:

  1. Indian Grey Hornbill (Least Concern)
  2. Malabar Grey Hornbill (Vulnerable)
  3. Malabar Pied Hornbill (Near Threatened) 
  4. Great Hornbill (Vulnerable)
  5. Narcondam Hornbill (Vulnerable) is found only in the Narcondam Island of Andaman Sea. 
  6. Rufous-necked Hornbill (Vulnerable)
  7. Wreathed-Hornbill (Vulnerable)
  8. White-throated Hornbill (Near Threatened) and 
  9. Oriental Pied Hornbill (Least Concern) 

Source: This post is based on the article “Save hornbills, for they are the gardeners of tropical forests: Studypublished in “Down To Earth” on 22nd October 2021.

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