The effect of 50 years of landscape change on species richness and community composition



We analysed a 50-year dataset of avian species observations to determine how richness and community composition varied over a period of landscape-scale environmental change. Our study area, northern lower Michigan, has experienced substantial land-use and land-cover change over time. Like much of the northern Midwest, it has shifted from a largely unpopulated, post-logging shrubland to a moderately populated closed-canopy forest. Such changes are generally expected to influence overall richness and community composition. We found that regional richness per year remained virtually unchanged over the study period. Year-to-year variation in species number was surprisingly low. Richness totals included vastly different species groups as the composition of the regional bird community changed substantially over time. Changes in the types of species present appear to reflect deterministic changes in habitat. The number of grassland and open-habitat species decreased, for example, while species associated with older forests and urban habitats increased. Our results suggest that habitat changes at the landscape scale do not necessarily lead to changes in the number of species a region can support. Such changes, however, do appear to influence the types of species that will occupy a region, and can lead to substantial changes in community composition.