A slippery slope: logging alters mass–abundance scaling in ecological communities


Correspondence author. E-mail: umesh.srinivasan@gmail.com


  1. Natural ecosystems face ever-increasing anthropogenic threats from activities such as logging. It is therefore important to: (i) understand anthropogenic impacts on key community characteristics with implications for community structure and function and (ii) identify metrics with mechanistic underpinnings, providing a more functional understanding of anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity. Mass–abundance scaling is the most fundamental property of ecological communities, with implications on energy and resource partitioning and on how species and population traits translate to community structure and function.

  2. In habitat patches representing a continuum of logging intensity, I examined the impact of logging on mass–abundance scaling in understorey bird species using mist netting and bird ringing. I used regression quantiles to estimate the slope and intercept of upper bound of the polygonal local-scale mass–abundance relationship.

  3. I show that this slope becomes more negative (and the intercept higher) as logging intensity increases. Logging might therefore significantly alter resource and energy partitioning among species in natural communities.

  4. The mechanism underlying this pattern is likely to be an interaction between resource depletion, body size and density compensation. Larger species face more severe resource shortages from depleted resource availability and are expected to decline in abundance following logging, leading to more negative mass–abundance scaling. Density compensation by smaller species following large species decline can ‘push up’ the intercept of the mass–abundance relationship. This might result in both steeper slopes and higher intercepts in logged habitats.

  5. Synthesis and applications. This study shows for the first time that anthropogenic habitat change can alter fundamental community properties such as mass–abundance scaling and that this property of ecological communities was better at detecting logging impacts than other standard community measures. Identifying key metrics that provide a functional understanding of anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity is a crucial need, for both the assessment of these impacts and the continued monitoring of habitat change. This study highlights the need to supplement commonly used community descriptions with more mechanistic measures of human impacts on biodiversity.