Tropical deforestation induces thresholds of reproductive viability and habitat suitability in Earth’s largest eagles

Everton B. P. Miranda, Carlos A. Peres, Vítor Carvalho-Rocha, Bruna V. Miguel, Nickolas Lormand, Niki Huizinga, Charles A. Munn, Thiago B. F. Semedo, Tiago V. Ferreira, João B. Pinho, Vítor Q. Piacentini, Miguel Â. Marini, Colleen T. Downs

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Apex predators are threatened globally, and their local extinctions are often driven by failures in sustaining prey acquisition under contexts of severe prey scarcity. The harpy eagle Harpia harpyja is Earth’s largest eagle and the apex aerial predator of Amazonian forests, but no previous study has examined the impact of forest loss on their feeding ecology. We monitored 16 active harpy eagle nests embedded within landscapes that had experienced 0 to 85% of forest loss, and identified 306 captured prey items. Harpy eagles could not switch to open-habitat prey in deforested habitats, and retained a diet based on canopy vertebrates even in deforested landscapes. Feeding rates decreased with forest loss, with three fledged individuals dying of starvation in landscapes that succumbed to 50–70% deforestation. Because landscapes deforested by > 70% supported no nests, and eaglets could not be provisioned to independence within landscapes > 50% forest loss, we established a 50% forest cover threshold for the reproductive viability of harpy eagle pairs. Our scaling-up estimate indicates that 35% of the entire 428,800-km2 Amazonian ‘Arc of Deforestation’ study region cannot support breeding harpy eagle populations. Our results suggest that restoring harpy eagle population viability within highly fragmented forest landscapes critically depends on decisive forest conservation action.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13048
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021

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