Aim To identify the ecological factors (related to vegetation, altitude, climate, or geomorphology) that could explain the main gradients of avifaunal richness and composition in arid environments of Central Iran.
Location The study was carried out in two nearby semi-arid protected areas of the Ispahan province: the Kolah-Ghazi National Park (c. 50,000 ha; 1540–2535 m a.s.l.) and the Mouteh Wildlife Refuge (c. 220,000 ha; 1493–2900 m a.s.l.). Annual average precipitation and temperature range from 155–205 mm and 15–19.5 °C, respectively. Vegetation cover is sparse.
Methods The two study areas were sampled with a 1 × 1 km grid design. A subset of 405 squares was randomly chosen and each was visited once during spring or summer by a team of five observers walking from one side of a square to the other and back, recording the birds encountered. Raptors and species considered to be accidental or migrating were not taken into account. We first looked for avifaunal, vegetation, and geomorphological gradients using Correspondence Analysis. As we found spatial autocorrelation within our response variables (avifaunal richness, abundance and/or composition), we first calculated an autocorrelation term, then added this autocorrelation term in anova, ancova (separate slope design) and stepwise regression to assess the relative role of spatial autocorrelation and environmental explanatory variables (vegetation, altitude, climate, or topography). We also partitioned the variance of the avifaunal matrix between several sets of co-variables, after controlling for spatial effects, using a series of partial Canonical Correspondence Analyses.
Results A main gradient, common to the two areas, distinguishes bird species characteristic of flat sedimentary areas and species dwelling in mountainous and/or rocky areas. Despite the generally low values of the correlations measured, we found that richness, abundance and composition of the avifauna were better correlated with topography, especially the altitudinal amplitude within each square, than any other variable, including vegetation. Altitudinal amplitude is related to substrate complexity.
Main conclusions In arid zones of central Iran, topographic features seem to be the main factors structuring avifaunal composition and abundance. Avifaunal composition and richness are mainly correlated with the complexity of the substrate, but both avifaunal richness and abundance increase with altitude, probably in response to decreasing aridity. We did not observe any bird altitudinal zonation in a strict sense. These results contrast with those generally observed in mid-latitude regions of the Palaearctic.