Avifauna response to hurricanes: regional changes in community similarity


Chadwick D. Rittenhouse, tel. +1 608 265 2228, fax +1 608 262 9922, e-mail:


Global climate models predict increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events such as hurricanes, which may abruptly alter ecological processes in forests and thus affect avian diversity. Developing appropriate conservation measures necessitates identifying patterns of avifauna response to hurricanes. We sought to answer two questions: (1) does avian diversity, measured as community similarity, abundance, and species richness, change in areas affected by hurricane compared with unaffected areas, and (2) what factors are associated with the change(s) in avian diversity? We used North American Breeding Bird Survey data, hurricane track information, and a time series of Landsat images in a repeated measures framework to answer these questions. Our results show a decrease in community similarity in the first posthurricane breeding season for all species as a group, and for species that nest in the midstory and canopy. We also found significant effects of hurricanes on abundance for species that breed in urban and woodland habitats, but not on the richness of any guild. In total, hurricanes produced regional changes in community similarity largely without significant loss of richness or overall avian abundance. We identified several potential mechanisms for these changes in avian diversity, including hurricane-induced changes in forest habitat and the use of refugia by birds displaced from hurricane-damaged forests. The prospect of increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes is not likely to invoke a conservation crisis for birds provided we maintain sufficient forest habitat so that avifauna can respond to hurricanes by shifting to areas of suitable habitat.