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Haemig PD (2011) Birds and Mammals Associated with Bamboo in the Atlantic Forest. ECOLOGY.INFO 5


Birds and Mammals Associated with Bamboo in the Atlantic Forest

Note: This online review is updated and revised continuously, as soon as results of new scientific research become available.  It therefore presents state-of-the-art information on the topic it covers.

Bamboos are tall, woody grasses that are important components of many forests in tropical and temperate regions (Ohrnberger 1999; Judziewicz et al. 1999).  Not surprisingly then, some species of animals are closely associated with bamboos and dependant on them for survival.

Perhaps the best-known of such bamboo-specialized animals are the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) of Asia.  These two vegetarian carnivores feed almost exclusively on the shoots and leaves of bamboo (for details see our review: Sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda).  In the the present report, we discuss birds and mammals associated with bamboo in the Atlantic forest of Brazil, and review field studies of them.  

The Atlantic Forest extends along the coast of eastern Brazil, from the states of Ceará and Rio Grande in the north, to Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul in the south.  A small part of this forest also extends into neighboring parts of Argentina (Misiones Province) and southeastern Paraguay.   The Atlantic Forest is separated from the Amazon Forest by drier habitats such as grasslands, savannas and caatinga, and consequently has many species of tropical plants and animals that do not occur in the Amazon Forest. 

In fact, the Atlantic Forest is the only place in the world where many species of plants and animals are known to occur. Unfortunately, because this region has been developed intensively by man for several hundred years, less than 3% of the original Atlantic forest remains intact, and many of its unique plants and animals are now either extinct or endangered (Sick 1985; 1993; Goerck 1995, 1997).

Bamboo-specialized birds

The following is a list of Atlantic Forest birds that are associated with bamboo: 
    Purple-winged Ground-Dove (Claravis godefrida)
    Rufous-capped Spinetail (Synallaxis ruficapilla)
    White-collared Foliage-gleaner (Anabazenops fuscus)
    White-eyed Foliage-gleaner (Automolus leucophthalmus)
    White-browed Foliage-gleaner (Anabacerthia amaurotis
    Canebrake Groundcreeper (Clibanornis dendrocolaptoides
    Black-billed Scythebill  (Campylorhamphus falcularius)
    Giant Antshrike (Batara cinerea
    Large-tailed Antshrike (Mackenzianena leachi)
    Tufted Antshrike (Mackenzianena severa)
White-bearded Antshrike (Biatas nigropectus)
    Rufous-tailed Antbird - (Drymophila genei)
    Ferruginous Antbird (Drymophila feruginea)
    Bertoni's Antbird (Drymophila rubricollis)
    Dusky-tailed Antbird (Drymophila malura
    Ochre-rumped Antbird (Drymophila ochropyga)
    White-shouldered Fire-eye  (Pyriglena leucoptera)
    Rufous-tailed Antthrush (Chamaeza ruficauda)
    Rufous Gnateater (Conopophaga lineata)
    White-browed Antpitta (Hylopezus ochroleucus)
    Grey-bellied Spinetail (Synallaxis cinerascens)
    Olive Spinetail (Cranioleuca obsoleta)
    Spotted Bamboowren (Psilorhamphus guttatus)
    Mouse-colored Tapaculo (Scytalopus speluncae)
    Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant (Hemitriccus furcatus)
    Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant (Hemitriccus diops)
    Brown-Breasted Bamboo-Tyrant  (Hemitriccus obsoletus)
    Ochre-faced Tody-flycatcher (Poecilotriccus plumbeiceps)
    Large-headed Flatbill (Ramphotrigon megacephala)
    Yellow Tyrannulet (Capsiempis flaveola)
    Wied's Tyrant-Manakin (Neopelma aurifrons)
    Blackish-blue Seedeater (Amaurospiza moesta)
    Uniform Finch (Haplospiza unicolor)
    Buffy-fronted Seedeater (Sporophila frontalis)
    Temminck's Seedeater (Sporophila falcirostris)
    Sooty Grassquit  (Tiaris fuliginosa)

Some species on the list, such as the Spotted Bamboowren (Psilorhanmphus guttatus) and the White-bearded Antshrike (Biatas nigropectus) are confined almost entirely to large stands of bamboo.  Others occur in additional habitats, but are most abundant where bamboo is common. Still others occur where there are several different types of trees and plants, but forage most extensively on bamboo. 

The amount of data upon which a bird is judged to be associated with bamboo varies.  For some species, scientific field studies have been carried out that confirm bamboo-specialization.  With others, the impressions of a well-trained ornithologist are the only data available.

The list was compiled from several references, including Sick (1985, 1993); Ridgely & Tudor (1989, 1994); Rodrigues et al. (1994); Leme (2001): Bodrati & Cockle 2006; Rajão & Cerqueira 2006; Dos Anjos et al. 2007; Santana & Dos Anjos (2010).

Field Studies of bamboo-specialized birds

Pioneering studies of bamboo specialization in Atlantic Forest birds have been made in the montane forest at Intervales State Park (Fazenda Intervales), São Paulo State.  Here, bamboos are abundant, including Giant Bamboo (Guadua angustifolia), and various species of Chusquea and Merostachys.  

At a study site located 900 meters above sea level, Rodrigues et al. (1994) studied the foraging behavior of 2 species of ovenbirds (Furnariidae) at Fazanda Intervales. They observed one of these ovenbirds, the White-collared Foliage-gleaner (Anabazenops fuscus), only in patches of dense bamboo vegetation, and did not find this bird in patches of primary vegetation where bamboo was absent.   Of the total foraging records obtained for this species, most were on bamboo: 53% on bamboo nodes, 21% on bamboo internodes, 13 % on bamboo leaves and only 13% on non-bamboo plants.  In contrast, the Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner (Philydor rufus), a related ovenbird living in the same area, avoided bamboo.  Only 1% of foraging records for it were on bamboo.

At a study site located 900 meters above sea level, Leme (2001) studied 4 species of Drymorphila antbirds at Fazanda Intervales.  She found that Bertoni's Antbirds (Drymorphila rubricollis) and Ferrugineous Antbirds (D. ferruginea) preferred to forage in bamboo thickets, where they fed mainly on insects on live bamboo foliage.  Eighty-three percent of trees foraged on by Bertoni's Antbirds were bamboo, while 78% of trees foraged on by Ferrugineous Antbirds were bamboo.  In contrast, two closely-related antbirds (D. malura and D. ochropyga), that also occurred in the area, showed no preference for bamboo.  

Also at Fazenda Intervales, Olmos (1996) studied the association of the Uniform Finch (Haplospiza unicolor) with Chusquea aff. meyeriana, a mast-seeding bamboo found only in the Atlantic forest.  The Uniform Finch is an irruptive species that seems to wander the Atlantic forest region searching for mast-seeding bamboo.  It feeds extensively on bamboo seeds and is usually not seen in an area during years when bamboos do not seed.

During Olmos' study, flowers began to grow on the Chusquea in September 1988, and all thickets of this wind-pollinated bamboo had flowers by November.  Ripe seeds fell to the ground six months later, from May to August 1989. 

The Uniform Finch was first seen in the area in December 1988.  At this time, Olmos observed singing males of this species, "always on or very close to Chusquea meyeriana thickets."  In April 1989, Olmos found the Uniform Finches building nests and laying eggs.  In May, he saw "family groups made of a male-female pair and 2-3 young.  In this month, he also observed the Uniform Finches foraging on bamboo seeds, "landing on the bamboo spikes and pressing the dried flowers with the bill, one by one, until finding a hidden seed, which was detached, cleaned from the husks and eaten." 

By the end of June, most of the Uniform Finches had left the area. Thus the lifecycle of the Uniform Finch was synchronized with that of the mast-seeding bamboo, causing this finch to breed in the austral autumn rather than the austral spring.

Where the Atlantic forest extends into Argentina, Areta et al. (2009) studied three species of birds that specialize in eating bamboo seeds: the purple-winged ground-dove (Claravis godefrida), Buffy-fronted Seedeater (Sporophila frontalis) and Temminck's Seedeater (Sporophila falcirostris). They recorded these three nomadic bird species only during masting events of Guadua bamboo trees (i.e. when these giant bamboos produced large numbers of seeds).

Mammals associated with bamboo

Only one species of mammal in the Atlantic Forest is a bamboo-specialist.  This species, the Southern Bamboo Rat (Kannabateomys amblyonyx), ranges from Espirito Santo state south to Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil.  It also occurs in the Selva Missionera of neighboring Argentina and Paraguay (Crespo 1982; Olmos et al. 1993).  

The Southern Bamboo Rat lives in groves of the native Giant Bamboo (Guadua species), as well as in thickets of introduced bamboo such as Chinese Bamboo (Bambusa tuldoides) and Phyllostachys species (Olmos et al. 1993; Stallings et al. 1994; Silva et al. 2008).  Individual bamboo rats fitted with transmitters and radio-tracked, were located outside bamboo stands only when they moved from one bamboo stand to another (Stallings et al. 1994).

The Southern Bamboo Rat is a large rodent and can weigh as much as 600 grams.  It is an arboreal browser, feeding mainly on the shoots, branches and leaves of bamboos.  Most observations of it feeding have been in bamboo at heights of over 2 meters above the ground (Olmos 1993).  Unlike most other rodents, the feet of the Southern Bamboo Rat have long primate-like fingers, with flat nails, that permit it to firmly grip the smooth culms of bamboo (Olmos et al. 1993).  It is active mainly at night.

Other Atlantic Forest rodents and bamboo:  On some occasions, the mast-seeding of bamboo seems to cause short-term explosive increases in the local abundance or density of other rodent species (i.e. those that are not bamboo specialists).  These population explosions, called "ratadas," and are not well-understood.  While mast-seeding by bamboo appears to be one factor that can trigger ratadas, many mast-seedings do not produce these population explosions, suggesting that other factors are also important (Jaksic and Lima 2003).

Summary and Conclusions

As we have seen above, many species of birds and one species of mammal in the Atlantic forest are strongly associated with bamboo, and some appear to be dependant on bamboo for their survival.   One interesting fact is that most (over 90%) of the bamboo-specialized birds and mammals we have listed for the Atlantic Forest are endemic species, that is they occur only in the Atlantic Forest.  Still more species of bamboo-specialized animals occur in Amazonia (See our special review Amazonian Birds Associated with Bamboo).  

Bamboo offers many important resources to animals, including food (seeds, shoots, leaves, insects, etc.), and cover from enemies.  Because so many native bamboo forests have been destroyed, many bamboo-specialized birds and mammals are less abundant in the Atlantic forest than they were previously.  Some have had their numbers further reduced because they have been trapped in large numbers to sell as cagebirds.

For these reasons, several bamboo specialists, such as the Purple-winged Ground-Dove, Buffy-fronted Seedeater, and Temmink's Seedeater are now endangered and their future survival is uncertain (Vasconcelos et al. 2005).


Areta JI, Bodrati A, Cockle K  (2009)  Specialization on Guadua bamboo seeds by three bird species in the Atlantic Forest of Argentina.  Biotropica 41: 66-73

Bodrati A, Cockle K  (2006)  Habitat, distribution and conservation of Atlantic Forest birds in Argentina: Notes on nine rare or threatened species.  Ornitologia Neotropical 17: 243-258

Crespo JA  (1982)  Ecología de la comunidad de mamíferos del Parque Nacional Iguazu, Missiones.  Rev. Mus. Argent. Cien. Nat. "Bernardino Rivadavia" 3: 48-162

Dos Anjos L  (2006)  Bird species sensitivity in a fragmented landscape of the Atlantic forest of Southern Brazil.  Biotropica 38: 229-234

Dos Anjos L, Volpato GH, Lopes EV, Serafini PP, Poletto F, Aleixo A  (2007)  The importance of riparian forest for the maintenance of bird species richness in an Atlantic Forest remnant, southern Brazil.  Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 24: 1078-1086

Goerk JM  (1995)   Birds of the Atlantic forest of Brazil: patterns of rarity and species distributions along an elevational gradient.  M.Sc. thesis, University of Missouri, St. Louis, USA

Goerk JM  (1997)  Patterns of rarity in the birds of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.  Conservation Biology 11: 112-118

Jaksic FM, Lima M  (2003) Myths and facts about ratadas: bamboo blooms, rainfall peaks and rodent outbreaks in South America.  Austral Ecology 28: 237-251

Judziewicz EJ, Clark LG, Londono X, Stern MJ  (1999)  American Bamboos.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Leme A  (2001)  Foraging patterns and resource use in four sympatric species of antwrens.  Journal of Field Ornithology 72: 221-227

Olmos F  (1996)  Satiation or deception?:  Mast-seeding Chusquea bamboos, birds and rats in the Atlantic Forest.  Rev. Brasil. Biol. 56: 391-401

Olmos F, Galetti M, Pashoal M, Mendes SL  (1993)  Habits of the southern Bamboo Rat, Kannabateomys amblyonyx (Rodentia, Echimyidae) in Southeastern Brazil.  Mammalia 57: 325-333

Ohrnberger D  (1999)  The Bamboos of the World.  Elsevier, Amsterdam

Rajão H, Cerqueira R  (2006)  Distribuição altitudinal e simpatria das aves do gênero Drymophila Swainson (Passeriformes, Thamnophilidae) na Mata Atlântica.  Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 23: 597-607

Ridgely RS, Tudor G  (1989)  The Birds of South America, Volume 1, the Oscine Passerines.  Oxford University Press, UK

Ridgely RS, Tudor G  (1994)  The Birds of South America, Volume 2, the Suboscine Passerines.  Oxford University Press, UK

Rodrigues M, Alvares SMR, Machado C  (1994)  Foraging behavior of the White-collared Foliage-gleaner (Anabazaenops fuscus), a bamboo specialist.  Ornitologia Neotropical 5: 65-67

Santana CR, Dos Anjos L  (2010)  Associação de aves a agrupamentos de bambu na porção Sul da Mata Atlântica, Londrina, Estado do Paraná, Brasil. Biota Neotropica 10(2): 39-44

Sick H  (1985)  Ornitologia Brasileira, Uma Introdução.  Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasil

Sick H  (1993)  Birds of Brazil.  Princeton University Press, USA

Silva RB, Vieira EM, Izar P  (2008)  Social monogamy and biparental care of the Neotropical Southern Bamboo Rat (Kannabateomys amblyonyx).  Journal of Mammalogy 89: 1464-1472

Stallings JR, Kierulff MCM, Silva LFBM  (1994)  Use of space and activity patterns of Brazilian Bamboo Rats (Kannabateomys-amblyonyx) in exotic habitat.  Journal of Tropical Ecology 10: 431-438

Vasconcelos MF, Vasconcelos AP, Viana PL, Palú L, Silva JF  (2005)  Observações sobre aves granívoras (Colombidae e Emberizidae) associadas à frutificação de taquaras (Poaceae, Bambusoideae) na porção meridional de Cadeia do Espinhaço, Minas Gerais, Brasil.  Lundiana 6: 75-77

Information about this Review

This review is also available in the following languages:  

Portuguese    Spanish

The author is:  Dr. Paul D. Haemig (Sweden)

The proper citation is:

Haemig PD  2012    Birds and mammals associated with bamboo in the Atlantic Forest.  ECOLOGY.INFO 5.

If you are aware of any important scientific publications that were omitted from this review, or have other suggestions for improving it, please contact the author at his e-mail address: 

paul.haemig {at} hik.se

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