Determinants of population persistence and abundance of terrestrial and arboreal vertebrates stranded in tropical forest land-bridge islands

Maíra Benchimol, Carlos A Peres

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Megadams are among the key modern drivers of habitat and biodiversity loss in emerging economies. The Balbina Hydroelectric Dam of Central Brazilian Amazonia inundated 312,900 ha of primary forests and created approximately 3500 variable-sized islands that still harbor vertebrate populations after nearly 3 decades after isolation. We estimated the species richness, abundance, biomass, composition, and group size of medium- to large-bodied forest vertebrates in response to patch, landscape, and habitat-quality metrics across 37 islands and 3 continuous forest sites throughout the Balbina archipelago. We conducted 1168 km of diurnal censuses and had 12,420 camera-trapping days along 81 transects with 207 camera stations. We determined the number of individuals (or groups) detected per 10 km walked and the number of independent photographs per 10 camera-trapping days, respectively, for each species. We recorded 34 species, and patch area was the most significant predictor of vertebrate population relative abundance and aggregate biomass. The maximum group size of several group-living species was consistently larger on large islands and in continuous patches than on small islands. Most vertebrate populations were extirpated after inundation. Remaining populations are unlikely to survive further ecological disruptions. If all vertebrate species were once widely distributed before inundation, we estimated that approximately 75% of all individual vertebrates were lost from all 3546 islands and 7.4% of the animals in all persisting insular populations are highly likely to be extirpated. Our results demonstrate that population abundance estimates should be factored into predictions of community disassembly on small islands to robustly predict biodiversity outcomes. Given the rapidly escalating hydropower infrastructure projects in developing counties, we suggest that faunal abundance and biomass estimates be considered in environmental impact assessments and large strictly protected reserves be established to minimize detrimental effects of dams on biodiversity. Conserving large tracts of continuous forests represents the most critical conservation measure to ensure that animal populations can persist at natural densities in Amazonian forests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)870-883
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
Early online date27 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Amazon
  • Amazonia
  • abundancia poblacional
  • biogeografía de islas
  • hidroeléctrica
  • homeotermos
  • homeotherms
  • hydroelectric
  • island biogeography
  • mammals
  • mamíferos
  • population abundance

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