Aim To show that the frequently reported positive trend in the abundance–range-size relationship does not hold true within a montane bird community of Afrotropical highlands; to test possible explanations of the extraordinary shape of this relationship; and to discuss the influence of island effects on patterns of bird abundance in the Cameroon Mountains.
Location Bamenda Highlands, Cameroon, Western Africa.
Methods We censused birds during the breeding season in November and December 2003 using a point-count method and mapped habitat structure at these census points. Local habitat requirements of each species detected by point counts were quantified using canonical correspondence analysis, and the size of geographical ranges of species was measured from their distribution maps for sub-Saharan Africa. We tested differences in abundance, niche breadth and niche position between three species groups: endemic bird species of the Cameroon Mountains, non-endemic Afromontane species, and widespread species.
Results We detected neither a positive nor negative abundance–range-size relationship in the bird community studied. This pattern was caused by the similar abundance of widespread, endemic and non-endemic montane bird species. Moreover, endemic and non-endemic montane species had broader local niches than widespread species. The widespread species also used more atypical habitats, as indicated by the slightly larger values of their niche positions.
Main conclusions The relationship detected between abundance and range size does not correspond with that inferred from contemporary macroecological theory. We suggest that island effects are responsible for the observed pattern. Relatively high abundances of montane species are probably caused by their adaptation to local environmental conditions, which was enabled by climatic stability and the isolation of montane forest in the Cameroon Mountains. Such a unique environment provides a less suitable habitat for widespread species. Montane species, which are abundant at present, may also have had large ranges in glacial periods, but their post-glacial distribution may have become restricted after the retreat of the montane forest. On the basis of comparison of our results with studies describing the abundance structure of bird communities in other montane areas in the Afrotropics, we suggest that the detected patterns may be universal throughout Afromontane forests.