A test of the mechanisms behind avian generalized individuals–area relationships
Article first published online: 25 SEP 2006
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Volume 15, Issue 3, pages 303–317, May 2006
How to Cite
Pautasso, M. and Gaston, K. J. (2006), A test of the mechanisms behind avian generalized individuals–area relationships. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 15: 303–317. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2006.00222.x
- Issue published online: 25 SEP 2006
- Article first published online: 25 SEP 2006
- census technique;
- plot size;
- point counts;
- population sampling;
- scale dependence;
- survey methodology;
- territory mapping
Aim Questions related to abundances of organisms are central to ecological research. A priori, a scale independent estimation of abundances would be expected. However, we find estimates of numbers of bird individuals from all over the world to increase less than proportionately with increasing plot size. At the whole assemblage level, the pattern holds across biogeographical regions and habitats. The slope of the interspecific and, for the majority of species, the intraspecific individuals–area relationship is also significantly shallower than 1. The question arises as to which mechanisms cause these patterns.
Methods At the assemblage, interspecific and intraspecific levels, we tested three mechanisms that could be responsible for these patterns by comparing the slope of the individuals–plot area relationship for subsets of a database compiled from the literature. Spatial autocorrelation was controlled for.
Results There was no evidence for an influence of plot area choice in order to sample a constant number of individuals. Evidence for higher survey efficiency was available only with increasing number of visits at the intraspecific level. Evidence for influences of habitat heterogeneity was present at the assemblage, interspecific and intraspecific levels. This mechanism can work only if small plots are delimited non-randomly in homogeneous habitat.
Main conclusions Avian population size estimates without indication of the area over which they were obtained are of substantially less value than those coupled with that information. Ecologists planning to compare avian abundances between plots varying in some other factor of interest should minimize variations in their areas and/or account for them in data analyses. Population viability analyses, regional and global population size estimates, site prioritization and the scaling of ecosystem and species energy utilization need to address the plot area effect on assemblage and individual species abundances.