A test for community saturation along the Himalayan bird diversity gradient, based on within-species geographical variation



  1. The idea that ecological communities are unsaturated is central to many explanations for regional gradients in species diversity.
  2. We describe a test for differing degrees of saturation across a regional diversity gradient, based on within-species geographical variation in ecological attributes. If communities in species-poor regions are less saturated than communities in species-rich regions, species that straddle both regions should have broader niches in species-poor regions, exploiting resources that are consumed by other species in species-rich regions.
  3. We studied 10 species of Old World leaf warblers that range across the Himalayas. Elevational range and feeding method showed niche contractions in the species-poor north-west Himalayas with respect to the species-rich south-east Himalayas, whereas prey size did not vary geographically. Niche contractions are contrary to the expectation of character release in depauperate environments, as has been shown, for example in mainland-island comparisons.
  4. We show that arthropod abundances are likely a limiting resource, and that niche contractions are consistent with measurements of a narrowing of resource availability.
  5. Results suggest that north-western warbler communities are at least as saturated as the south-east and that lower resource diversity drives reduced species numbers.