Abundance, species richness and energy availability in the North American avifauna

Authors

  • Karl L. Evans,

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  • Neil A. James,

    1. Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK Present address: British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK.
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  • Kevin J. Gaston

    1. Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK Present address: British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK.
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*Correspondence: Karl L. Evans, Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK. E-mail: karl.evans@sheffield.ac.uk

ABSTRACT

Aim  To determine how species richness, abundance, biomass, energy use and mean number of individuals per species scale with environmental energy availability in wintering and breeding avian assemblages, and to contrast assemblages of (i) common and rare species and (ii) breeding residents and migrants. To assess whether such patterns are compatible with the ‘more individuals hypothesis’ (MIH) that high-energy areas are species-rich because they support larger populations that are buffered against extinction.

Location  The North American continent (latitudinal range 23.4 °−48.1 °N; longitudinal range 124.2°−68.7° W).

Methods  Avian species richness, abundance, biomass and energy use were calculated for 295 Resident Bird Count plots. Environmental energy availability was measured using ambient temperature and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a close correlate of plant productivity. Analyses took plot area into account, and were conducted (with and without taking habitat type into account) using general linear models and spatial mixed models.

Results  Positive species–energy relationships were exhibited by both wintering and breeding assemblages, but were stronger in the former. The structure of winter assemblages responded more strongly to temperature than NDVI, while breeding assemblages tended to respond more strongly to NDVI. Breeding residents responded to annual measures of energy availability while breeding migrants and the winter assemblage responded more strongly to seasonal measures. In the winter assemblage, rare and common species exhibited species–energy relationships of a similar strength, but common breeding species exhibited a much stronger relationship than rare breeding species. In both breeding and wintering assemblages, abundance, biomass and energy use increased with energy availability and species richness. Energy availability was a poor predictor of the mean number of individuals per species.

Main conclusions  The nature of the species–energy relationship varies seasonally and with the manner in which energy availability is measured. Our data suggest that residents are less able to respond to seasonal fluxes in resource availability than long-distance migrants. Increasing species richness and energy availability is associated with increasing numbers of individuals, biomass and energy use. While these observations are compatible with the MIH our data provide only equivocal support for this hypothesis, as the rarest species do not exhibit the strongest species–energy relationships.

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