• conservation;
  • ecosystem function;
  • human impacts;
  • macroecology;
  • metapopulations;
  • temporal trends


  • 1
    Range size, population size and body size, the key macroecological variables, vary temporally both within and across species in response to anthropogenic and natural environmental change. However, resulting temporal trends in the relationships between these variables (i.e. macroecological patterns) have received little attention.
  • 2
    Positive relationships between the local abundance and regional occupancy of species (abundance–occupancy relationships) are among the most pervasive of all macroecological patterns. In the absence of formal predictions of how abundance–occupancy relationships may vary temporally, we outline several scenarios of how changes in abundance within species might affect interspecific patterns.
  • 3
    We use data on the distribution and abundance of 73 farmland and 55 woodland bird species in Britain over a 32-year period encompassing substantial habitat modification to assess the likelihood of these scenarios.
  • 4
    In both farmland and woodland habitats, the interspecific abundance–occupancy relationship changed markedly over the period 1968–99, with a significant decline in the strength of the relationship.
  • 5
    Consideration of intraspecific dynamics shows that this has been due to a decoupling of abundance and occupancy particularly in rare and declining species. Insights into the intraspecific processes responsible for the interspecific trend are obtained by analysis of temporal trends in the distribution of individuals between sites, which show patterns consistent with habitat quality declines.
  • 6
    This study shows that a profitable approach to ascertaining the nature of human impacts is to link intra- and interspecific processes. In the case of British farmland and woodland birds, changes to the environment lead to species-specific responses in large-scale distributions. These species-specific changes are the driver of the observed changes in the form and strength of the interspecific relationship.