The Pink-legged Graveteiro (Acrobatornis fonsecai) is a species of bird in the Furnariidae family that is endemic to Brazil (Pacheco 1996). More specifically the Atlantic Forest located in the southeast part of Brazil, thriving in the cocoa plantations (Pacheco 1996). As of 2000 the Pink-legged Graveteiro is listed as a vulnerable species (Birdlife International 2004). The estimated population of the Pink-legged Graveteiro is between 2,500 and 9,999 individuals left in the wild (Birdlife International 2007). Its main habitat is cocoa plantations which are now being wiped out, leaving the Pinked-legged Graveteiro with no where to go (Pacheco 1996). Since this rare bird is only found in this one location on earth there needs to be conservation steps implemented to ensure its survival. It is the only member of the genus Acrobatornis.
The Pink-legged Graveteiro's most distinctive feature is, as the name suggests, its bright-pink legs and feet (Pacheco 1996). The plumage, as an adult, is mainly black and gray (Pacheco 1996). As juveniles they are commonly more brown in color (Birdlife International 2007). Its size is comparable to that of a warbler, and is thought to be stout for a bird its size (Line 1996). A more specific measurement of the bird is about 14 cm as an adult (Birdlife International 2007). One way to tell you have found a Pink-legged Graveteiro is by its unique song. The song is usually high-pitched and begins with sparse notes, then it accelerates, and finally finishes with a long trill (Birdlife International 2007).
Diet and feeding
The scientific name of the species, Acrobatornis fonsecai is a reference to its acrobatic habits. It tends to hang upside-down under the canopies of trees while slinking along searching for its next meal (Pacheco 1996). The diet of this bird includes mainly insects and more specifically Coleoptera, which are beetles (Birdlife International 2007). Some other species that were found in the stomachs of the birds were termites, moths, arthropods, ants, insect larvae, insect eggs, and spiders (Pacheco 1996).
The Pink-legged Graveteiro has many special characteristics concerning the nest that it builds. One feature of the nests is that they are shaped kind of like an oven with a single chamber inside with a roof, instead of being open on top like common nests (Wilson 1996). This is why some people can it an ovenbird. The nests are made up of sticks and twigs, and are lined with leaves and moss (Wilson 1996). The type of tree that the Pink-legged Graveteiro tends to prefer for nesting over all others is the Leguminosae tree (Pacheco 1996). In a study done over the nesting of the Pink-legged Graveteiro, it was discovered that the nests were positioned in the canopies of tall shade trees (Wilson 1996). Also in the same study, where 131 nests were observed in 74 trees, it was recorded that on average there is 1.8 nests per tree, and the tree with the most nests had 5 (Wilson 1996). The interesting part about this study is that only one of the nests in each tree is actually used (Wilson 1996). The others are a kind of "mock"? nest, and are usually smaller (Wilson 1996). The Pink-legged Graveteiro does this to ward off predators and to even use them as a resource for future nest building (Wilson 1996). These nests are put to use sometime between or after September and October, which happens to be their breeding season (Birdlife 2004). Within the nest every family member does their part, it is really a family affair. Both male and female parents play their role in the feeding of the 2 to 3 young that they produce that still need help feeding (Pacheco 1996). To help the parents the offspring that are not quite adults but can fly help with the feeding of the young, and with some repairs around the nest (Wilson 1996).
Conservation and threats
The Atlantic Forest of Brazil, where the Pink-legged Graveteiro is located, originally covered 330,000,000 acres (1,300,000 km2) of land and has quickly been reduced down to 7 percent of its original size (Places We Work 2007). The forest used to stretch from Rio Grande do Norte and Cerra to the north, to Rio Grande do Sol to the south (Atlantic Forest 2008). It also used to spread out over the coastal plains and the foothills and slopes of Serr do Mar (Atlantic Forest 2008). 5 percent of all vertebrates on earth call this forest home, and there are 2,200 different types of birds, mammals reptiles and amphibians (Places We Work 2007). The Atlantic Forest holds 8 percent of all the plants found on earth, including 20,000 different types of plants, with more being discovered all the time (Places We Work 2007). Because of its biodiversity, the Atlantic Forest is rightfully considered a biological hotspot (Atlantic Forest 2008). Some other statistics that directly affect the Pink-legged Graveteiro are that 60% of all Brazil's endangered animals reside here, and there are almost 200 different bird species that are only found is this remote location on earth (Places We Work 2007).
The degradation of the Atlantic Forest began when the Portuguese pioneers came over to settle the land (Atlantic Forest 2008). To get cattle they would chop down the trees and use it as an export trade and in return they would get the cattle (Atlantic Forest 2008). Also, the French and Spanish settlers cleared the forest for their cattle ranches (Atlantic Forest 2008). These same ideas are still in place today. People are still clearing land for timber and for more land for agriculture and grazing.
Another threat to the Atlantic Forest is population increase and the many problems that come with it. Currently the portion of Brazil that happens to have the most potential to have for the greatest biodiversity is the most populated region of Brazil (Atlantic Forest 2008). Two of the three most populated cities in South America are located here, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Atlantic Forest 2008). This area makes up 70% of Brazil's population, and it is the location of the majority of its industries (Places We Work 2007). All of this poses major threats to the survival of the Atlantic Forest. As these two huge towns increase there will be a demand to expand which will mean taking out even more of the precious forest. They will want to make way for new housing developments as well as space for more industries to be manufactured. Along with all of this expansion and industrialization comes pollution. All different types of pollution, water, air, soil, all things that will hinder the integrity of the Atlantic Forest. Along with the people moving into Brazil comes the need for roads. The building of roads through the forests have left species of animals isolated in fragmented spaces when some of them need a large amount of space to survive (Ecosystem Profile 2001).
Another problem that the Atlantic Forest faces is logging. Logging is an age old business in Brazil, but has recently expanded to the point where the government had to ban it entirely in 1990 (Ecosystem Profile 2001). However, the logging continued and was done mainly illegally and is continuing to expand (Ecosystem Profile 2001). The harm that this does to the land is obvious. When you wipe out a creatures habitat you take away everything they need to survive which may wipe them out too if something is not done. Monoculture and intensive land use are also harmful to the Atlantic forest, and they may go hand in hand. Eucalyptus trees are one example of a monoculture that has hurt the integrity of the forest as well as stripping the soil of nutrients without putting much back (Ecosystem Profile 2001). Another intensive use of the land is grazing (Ecosystem Profile 2001). To make room for the 1.8 million cows that occupy the region, the owners burn the forests and allow the cattle to overgraze the land (Ecosystem Profile 2001).
The Pink-legged Graveteiro populates a small area in the southeastern part of Bahia, Brazil in a part of the Atlantic Forest (Birdlife International 2007). More specifically, from the Rio de Contas in the north, to the Rio Jequitinhonha in the south, and from Ipiau in the west, to Itabuna in east. (Pacheco 1996). This part of Brazil gets more than 1300 millimeters of rain a year, and is a very hot and humid location (Pacheco 1996). Much of this naturally forested area has been converted into cocoa plantations, which is good news for the Pink-legged Graveteiro because its survival seems to depend on the presence of cocoa trees (Pacheco 1996). Although cocoa plantations are a type of agriculture and that means a lot of the biodiversity of an area is wiped out. However, cocoa plantations are one of the best forms of agriculture where habitat conservation is concerned. The main reason for this is that cocoa trees live in the under story of large shade trees (Greenburg 2006). The process for preparing the land for cocoa fields consists of clearing the under story of the forest, and reducing the canopy to about 10 percent of the trees that are naturally found (Line 1996). This type of agriculture is beneficial because the plantations can support life at more than one level compared to types of monoculture that can only hold life at one level. It also creates habitat that connects other habitats, which helps lessen the problem of habitat fragmentation. The Pink-legged Graveteiro really uses the cocoa plantations to the best of its ability. In the upper level, in the shade trees is where they make their nests and raise their young. In the lower levels of cocoa trees is where the Pink-legged Graveteiro does its foraging. There is enough biodiversity in the lower level to support all the food sources the Pink-legged Graveteiro needs to survive.
The cocoa plantations are facing many threats that will harm the Pink-legged Graveteiro if they are not reversed. When dealing with the "Evil Quartet"?, habitat destruction and some over exploitation of the land are the two main factors driving the Pink-legged Graveteiro to endangerment. The overexploitation comes from cattle overgrazing in the pastures. The habitat destruction comes from many different problems. The first is the switch from shade crops to partly sun or even full sun crops, which will eliminate the different levels that sustain life in the shade plantations (Greenburg 2006). Also, about 5,000 km of cocoa plantation are estimated to be converted to pasture land in the coming years (McGinley 2007). This will further habitat fragmentation of this area making it hard for animals that reside in the plantation to move from one part of their habitat to another part of their habitat (McGinley 2007). One problem that the plantations have already experienced and was very detrimental to their livelihood was the outbreak of a disease called "Witches' Broom"? in the 1980s and 1990s. Witches' Broom is caused by the fungus Crinipellis pernicious, this fungus wiped out a large portion of the cocoa that was being produced in Brazil and other surrounding countries (Oxford University Press 2005). At about the same time as the outbreak of Witches' Broom, the market for cocoa crashed (Line 1996). The combination of these two catastrophes left the owners with nothing else to do for money but chop down the trees and sell them for cash, destroying the Pink-legged Graveteiro's habitat (Line 1996).
The first part of restoring the Pink-legged Graveteiro back to sustainable numbers, is starting with the conservation of the Atlantic Forest. There are many conservation efforts already in place that are meant to serve the Atlantic Forest, and rightly so. The Atlantic Forest is home to 5 percent of the world's vertebrates and 8 percent of the world's plants (Places We Work 2007). Only about 8 percent of unbroken original habitat is left to support this hotspot (Duffy 2007). The government of Brazil is working to protect this vital piece of habitat by setting aside land for 108 national state parks, 85 federal and state biological reserves, and 31 federal and state ecological reserves, totaling 225 different areas set aside for conservation (Duffy 2007). Another successful program put in place is the private reserve system, which covers almost 1,000 kilometers of the Atlantic Forest (Duffy 2007). One main strategy that is in place to encourage biodiversity is establishing corridors because the habitats that are remaining are severely fragmented (Duffy 2007). There are many corridors being established to connect the wildlife, but the main one in the Atlantic Forest is located in the south part of Bahia and Espirito Santo (Duffy 2007).
One agency that is in the process of protecting the Atlantic Forest is the Nature Conservancy which has been in business since 1991 with a host of partners to help it along (Places We Work 2007). Their plan is to have 30,000,000 acres (120,000 km2) of forest restored and protected by 2015 (Places We Work 2007). The Nature Conservancy's main way of accomplishing this is through corridors (Places We Work 2007). These corridors will help reduce the growing fragmentation problems in Brazil and ensure the gene exchange throughout the different populations that inhabit the land (Places We Work 2007). One key point that the Nature Conservancy recognizes is the needs of the people that live in area (Places We Work 2007). Through their program they plan to develop economic alternatives that will support both forest protection and the local people, and also provide incentives for conservation (Places We Work 2007).
Another group that is helping the Atlantic Forest is the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, which was started in 2002 (Duffy 2007). Through this program they strive to conserve threatened and endangered species through the Species Protection Program (Duffy 2007). Also, they help people that own land in Brazil manage their land in a sustainable way through the Program for Supporting Private Natural Heritage Reserves (Duffy 2007). Not only will this support biodiversity, but it will also ensure that the land is usable in the coming years. Lastly, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund will supply the technology and support that is needed for private conservation efforts through the Institutional Strengthening Program (Duffy 2007). If the people do not have the technology and support that is necessary there will be no way for them to manage their land in a sustainable way.
There have also been recommended ways to increase the biodiversity within the cocoa plantations themselves. One way is to increase the diversity of the shade crops that are used (Greenburg 2006). The different types of shade crops that are brought in will bring their own pieces of biodiversity with them adding to the total biodiversity of the farm (Greenburg 2006). It would also be beneficial if the shade crops that are planted were native to the area (Greenburg 2006). This helps keep out a member of the "Evil Quartet"?, invasive species. If the farmer sticks with what is naturally found in Brazil no harmful species will accidentally be brought in. Another way that is recommended is to leave buffer zones of the natural vegetation on the edges of streams, property lines, and forest reserves (Greenburg 2006). This may be a small way to add biodiversity, but if every farmer started using this tactic it would all equal out to be a large contribution to biodiversity. Also, farmers could leave small trees to grow when they are weeding their fields (Greenburg 2006). Not only will this add to biodiversity of the plantation, it will also allow for more, fresh shade trees in the future. Throughout this all the native people of Brazil really need to be kept in mind. There are a few ways to do this and they include many incentives for supporting biodiversity, because without incentives the farmer is more likely to destroy the land. Some ways would be to guarantee free trade, access to pre-harvest credit, and taxing agrochemical inputs (Greenburg 2006).
One group that has helped the Pink-legged Graveteiro specifically is Birdlife (Langley 2003). They believe that many of the practices used in cocoa farming are not all that bad compared to other different types of agriculture (Langley 2003). So in their conservation effort they want to encourage and assist farmers in becoming organically certified (Langley 2003). To be an organic cocoa farmer you must maintain 20 percent of original forest on their farms (Langley 2003). The 20 percent more original forest will give the Pink-legged Graveteiro a lot more space for it to nest. This strategy will not only be beneficial to the Pink-legged Graveteiro, but will also help all other types of wildlife that thrive in the original forest. It is a way to help deal with the large problem of habitat fragmentation that is happening in the Atlantic Forest by connecting the environments that surround the farms. This plan will also help the farmers. There is growing market for organically grow foods, and in the end they may end up profiting from going organic. It will also help maintain the integrity of the soil so that future generations will be able to farm there too.
As great as cocoa farming sounds there is still the lingering question of ethics that goes along with it. To make a cocoa tree field you have to wipe out a majority of the natural forest that is native to the location. So should we be trying to save the all of the biodiversity possible and leave the forest alone or are cocoa plantations an acceptable alternative? Within the cocoa plantations is where the Pink-legged Graveteiro bird prospers the best, even more so then in the natural forest. So do we save the cocoa plantations just for the Pink-legged Graveteiro or should we leave the forest so it can support an even more diverse system? Another thing to keep in mind is the native people. They will want to have a way to make a comfortable living, and that usually means clearing the forest for one thing or another, whether it be agriculture or industry. But who says that humans have a right to the land over wildlife? So where should the line be drawn that will satisfy both sides of the argument?