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Ecological correlates of geographical range occupancy in North American birds


*Corresponding author: Allen H. Hurlbert, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA. E-mail:


Aim  The degree to which a species is predictably encountered within its range varies tremendously across species. Understanding why some species occur less frequently within their range than others has important consequences for conservation and for analyses of ecological patterns based on range maps. We examined whether patterns in geographical range occupancy can be explained by species-level traits.

Location  North America.

Methods  We used survey data from 1993 to 2002 from the North American Breeding Bird Survey along with digital range maps produced by NatureServe to calculate range occupancy for 298 species of terrestrial birds. We tested whether species traits explained variation in range occupancy values using linear regression techniques.

Results  We found three species traits that together explained more than half of the variation in range occupancy. Population density and niche breadth were positively correlated with occupancy, while niche position was negatively correlated with occupancy.

Main conclusions  Our results suggest that high range occupancy will occur in species that are common at sites on which they occur, that tolerate a relatively wide range of ecological conditions and that tend to have ranges centred on areas with common environmental conditions. Furthermore, it appears that niche-based characteristics may explain patterns of distribution and abundance from local habitats up to the scale of geographical ranges.