Do local abundances of British birds change with proximity to range edge?



Aim Species generally vary in the density they attain at different sites, prompting the question of whether this variation is systematic across their range. We investigate this question using data on the abundance and distribution of thirty-two species of passerine birds across Britain derived from censuses organized by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Methods Analysis is complicated by the issue of quantifying the distance of any particular census location from the edge of the range of a species when the study area encompasses only part of its entire distribution. No measure of this quantity is a priori the correct one, and so we use a variety of different measures which make differing assumptions about how abundances might be structured across species ranges.

Results None of the measures used reveal any consistent relationships between the density attained by species at census sites and the spatial positions of those sites. Only thirteen species show significant relationships with any of the measures, and no more than seven species with any single measure.

Main conclusion In summary, there is no convincing evidence that passerine bird densities are usually lower towards range edges in Britain. We discuss possible reasons for these findings.