Northeast India, located in a global biodiversity hotspot, faces several biodiversity issues. These include shorter fallow periods between ‘jhum’ (shifting cultivation) cycles which give less time for forests to recoup, along with encroachment, logging and other developmental activities. This is leading to widespread habitat loss and degradation. In such a scenario, Community Reserves that largely make up the Protected Area network in Northeast India could likely act as refugia for several species. Our study explored how owls use these Reserves in the Garo Hills in Meghalaya. We conducted three temporal replicates in thirty-three 500 × 500 m grids between January and March 2020. Ecologically relevant site and sampling covariates were quantified in each grid along with owl counts. Occupancy and N-mixture models revealed that wind speed, temperature, humidity and survey start time had the greatest effect on the detection probability of owls. On the other hand, occupancy and abundance were most influenced by slope, distance to water body, disturbance and tree structural characteristics (girth and tree height heterogeneity). With these findings, we highlight the importance of preserving water bodies and old-growth forests in Community Reserves of the Garo Hills landscape, which seem to be acting as refugia for the Brown Wood-owl Strix leptogrammica, an old-growth forest specialist thought to be currently in decline.
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Vol. 109 • No. 2