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Compositional changes over space and time along an occurrence–abundance continuum: anthropogenic homogenization of the North American avifauna



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 35, Issue 5, 976, Article first published online: 2 April 2008

*Frank A. La Sorte, Ecology, Behavior and Evolution Section, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0116, La Jolla, CA 92093-0116, USA.


Aim  Changes in community attributes due to the influence of anthropogenic activities have been examined primarily using occurrence data with little consideration of associated changes in abundance. To determine how this influences our perception of biotic homogenization, we examined compositional patterns for avian assemblages over space and time along an occurrence–abundance continuum.

Location  The contiguous United States and southern Canada.

Methods  We examined avian assemblages at 951 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) routes from 1970 to 2005 that contained a total of 443 species. We used five dissimilarity indices to estimate compositional patterns along an occurrence–abundance continuum of assemblage structure (from species occurrence to transformed abundance to raw abundance) for 396,925 unique combinations of BBS route pairs. We examined annual plots of dissimilarity by distance between BBS routes pairs to estimate spatial and temporal patterns for each index.

Results  Dissimilarity declined with increasing distance between route pairs for occurrence and transformed abundance, reaching an asymptote at approximately 2500 km. For raw abundance, dissimilarity peaked at intermediate distances (1000–2500 km) with no evidence of an asymptote. Avian assemblages became more similar over time at all points along the continuum. Occurrence and transformed abundance presented the weakest temporal trends, which were uniform or poorly delineated as a function of distance between routes. Raw abundance presented the strongest temporal trends, which declined in strength with increasing distance between routes.

Main conclusions  With the addition of abundance, there was a substantial and consistent pattern of degradation of β-diversity for North American avifauna that differed considerably from that observed from occurrence data alone. The geographical expansion of a few species, which recently benefited from the direct and indirect consequences of anthropogenic activities, probably played a prominent role in these patterns. When broad-scale expansions in occupancy are evident, minor gains in similarity based on species occurrence can mask more substantial gains in similarity based on local abundance. When abundance information is unavailable, its role can be estimated by how occupancy has responded geographically to anthropogenic activities and the expectations of the abundance–occupancy relationship. Our findings support previous work indicating that widespread and locally abundant species will tend to benefit more from anthropogenic activities, creating a possible synergism that enhances biotic homogenization.