Explanations for bird species range size: ecological correlates and phylogenetic effects in the Canary Islands


*Luis M. Carrascal, Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, National Museum of Natural Sciences, CSIC, C/José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: lmcarrascal@mncn.csic.es


Aim  To explore the determinants of island occupancy of 48 terrestrial bird species in an oceanic archipelago, accounting for ecological components while controlling for phylogenetic effects.

Location  The seven main islands of the Canary archipelago.

Methods  We obtained field data on population density, habitat breadth and landscape distribution in Tenerife, Fuerteventura and La Palma, aiming to sample all available habitats and the gradient of altitudes. In total, 1715 line transects of 0.5 km were carried out during the breeding season. We also reviewed the literature for data on occupancy, the distance between the Canary Islands and the nearest distribution border on the mainland, body size and endemicity of the 48 terrestrial bird species studied. Phylogenetic eigenvector regression was used to quantify (and to control for) the amount of phylogenetic signal.

Results  The two measurements of occupancy (number of occupied islands or 10 × 10 km UTM squares) were tightly correlated and produced very similar results. The occupancy of the terrestrial birds of the Canary Islands during the breeding season had a very low phylogenetic effect. Species with broader habitat breadth, stronger preferences for urban environments, smaller body size, and a lower degree of endemicity had a broader geographical distribution in the archipelago, occupying a larger number of islands and 10 × 10 UTM squares.

Main conclusions  The habitat-generalist species with a tolerance for novel urban environments tend to be present on more islands and to occupy a greater area, whereas large-sized species that are genetically differentiated within the islands are less widespread. Therefore, some properties of the ranges of these species are explicable from basic biological features. A positive relationship of range size with local abundance, previously shown in continental studies, was not found, probably because it relies on free dispersal on continuous landmasses, which may not be applicable on oceanic islands.