Explanations of commonness and rarity in British breeding birds: separating resource use and resource availability


  • Richard D. Gregory,

  • Kevin J. Gaston

R. D. Gregory, British Trust for Ornithology, National Centre for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, UK IP24 2PU (present address: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK SG19 2DL [richard.gregory@rspb.org.uk]). – K. J. Gaston, Dept of Animal and Plant Sciences, Univ. of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK S10 2TN.


Two of the most prominent explanations for a positive interspecific relationship between local abundance and regional distribution are the resource breadth and the resource availability hypotheses. Here we test these hypotheses by characterising habitat use of British breeding birds using extensive census and environmental data. A group of 85 bird species was considered for study along with 34 land use or environmental variables, which were used to generate four ordination axes by Canonical Correspondence Analysis. Measures of niche breadth and position were derived from these synthetic environmental axes using standard procedures. Across species, none of five measures of abundance and distribution chosen were correlated with niche breadth, whereas four out of five of these measures were correlated negatively with niche position. Repeating the analyses using a method designed to control for phylogenetic non-independence confirmed these general patterns. Birds that tended to use resources that were more atypical of the environment tended to be rarer and thinly distributed, while those using typical resources were common and widely distributed. Performing the analyses on subsets of the data based on species sample sizes did not alter the conclusions. On the assumption that our analyses properly capture patterns of niche use by birds, we find little support for the resource breadth hypothesis, but considerable support for the resource availability hypothesis.