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The lowland forest on the southern Pacific slope of Costa Rica has an extremely diverse avifauna, including the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager Habia atrimaxillaris. The only known remaining populations of this highly range-restricted species occur in the areas of Piedras Blancas and Corcovado National Park. It is assumed that the population is decreasing due to habitat loss and fragmentation. We assessed the species’ population density in a part of the Piedras Blancas National Park using distance sampling (in February–April 2009 and November 2010–January 2011) and territory mapping (November 2010–January 2011). We also examined habitat preferences based on vegetation structure at point count locations. Black-cheeked Ant-tanagers were exclusively found in old-growth forest. The species’ likelihood of occurrence at census points increased with forest cover (within a radius of 200 m around census points), canopy closure, and density of trees (with diameter at breast height >10 cm). Average population density estimated by distance sampling was 24–27 individuals per km², which is in accordance with the population size estimated by territory mapping (17–25 birds per km²). Based on these estimates, an overall population size of 12,432–20,720 birds is predicted for the remaining 592 km² lowland forest area of the Golfo Dulce region. The Black-cheeked Ant-tanager was only recorded in old-growth forest, but not in gallery forests embedded in a human-dominated landscape matrix. Since the species appears to avoid forest edges, further forest degradation and fragmentation will have a strong negative impact and should be rapidly reduced by adequate conservation measures.
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