Interspecific differences in population trends of Spanish birds are related to habitat and climatic preferences


*Correspondence and present address: Javier Seoane, Departamento Interuniversitario de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain.


Aim  Animal monitoring programmes have allowed analyses of population trends, most of which now comment on the possible effect of global climate change. However, the relationship between the interspecific variation in population trends and species traits, such as habitat preferences, niche breadth or distribution patterns, has received little attention, in spite of its usefulness in the construction of ecological generalizations. The objectives of this study were: (1) to determine whether there are characteristics shared among species with upwards or downwards trends, and (2) to assess whether population changes agree with what could be expected under global warming (a decrease in species typical of cooler environments).

Location  The Spanish part of the Iberian Peninsula (c. 500,000 km2) in the south-western part of the Mediterranean Basin.

Methods  We modelled recent breeding population changes (1996–2004), in areas without apparent land use changes, for 57 common passerine birds with species-specific ecological and distributional patterns as explanatory variables.

Results  One-half of these species have shown a generalized pattern towards the increase of their populations, while only one-tenth showed a significant decrease. One half (54%) of the interspecific variability in yearly population trends is explained considering species-specific traits. Species showing more marked increases preferred wooded habitats, were habitat generalists and occupied warmer and wetter areas, while moderate decreases were found for open country habitats in drier areas.

Main conclusions  The coherent pattern in population trends we found disagrees with the proposed detrimental effect of global warming on bird populations of western Europe, which is expected to be more intense in bird species inhabiting cooler areas and habitats. Such a pattern suggests that factors other than the increase in temperature may be brought to discussions on global change as relevant components to explain recent changes in biodiversity.