The geographical structure of British bird distributions: diversity, spatial turnover and scale


Dr J.J. Lennon, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS2 9JT, UK. Tel.: + 44 0113233 2825, Fax: + 44 0113233 2835, E-mail:


  • 1 Using data on the spatial distribution of the British avifauna, we address three basic questions about the spatial structure of assemblages: (i) Is there a relationship between species richness (alpha diversity) and spatial turnover of species (beta diversity)? (ii) Do high richness locations have fewer species in common with neighbouring areas than low richness locations?, and (iii) Are any such relationships contingent on spatial scale (resolution or quadrat area), and do they reflect the operation of a particular kind of species–area relationship (SAR)?
  • 2 For all measures of spatial turnover, we found a negative relationship with species richness. This held across all scales, with the exception of turnover measured as βsim.
  • 3 Higher richness areas were found to have more species in common with neighbouring areas.
  • 4 The logarithmic SAR fitted better than the power SAR overall, and fitted significantly better in areas with low richness and high turnover.
  • 5 Spatial patterns of both turnover and richness vary with scale. The finest scale richness pattern (10 km) and the coarse scale richness pattern (90 km) are statistically unrelated. The same is true of the turnover patterns.
  • 6 With coarsening scale, locations of the most species-rich quadrats move north. This observed sensitivity of richness ‘hotspot’ location to spatial scale has implications for conservation biology, e.g. the location of a reserve selected on the basis of maximum richness may change considerably with reserve size or scale of analysis.
  • 7 Average turnover measured using indices declined with coarsening scale, but the average number of species gained or lost between neighbouring quadrats was essentially scale invariant at 10–13 species, despite mean richness rising from 80 to 146 species (across an 81-fold area increase). We show that this kind of scale invariance is consistent with the logarithmic SAR.