Stochastic and deterministic drivers of spatial and temporal turnover in breeding bird communities


Correspondence: James C. Stegen, Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate, Biological Sciences Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA 99352, USA.




A long-standing challenge in ecology is to identify the suite of factors that lead to turnover in species composition in both space and time. These factors might be stochastic (e.g. sampling and priority effects) or deterministic (e.g. competition and environmental filtering). While numerous studies have examined the relationship between turnover and individual drivers of interest (e.g. primary productivity, habitat heterogeneity, or regional – ‘gamma’ – diversity), few studies have disentangled the simultaneous influences of multiple stochastic and deterministic processes on both temporal and spatial turnover. If turnover is governed primarily by stochastic sampling processes, removing the sampling effects of gamma diversity should result in non-significant relationships between turnover and environmental variables. Conversely, if deterministic processes govern turnover patterns, removing sampling effects will have little influence on turnover gradients. Here, we test these predictions.


The United States.


Continental-scale, multidecadal data were used to quantify spatial and temporal turnover in avian community composition within 295 survey routes. A series of regression and structural equation models were coupled with a null model to construct statistical models describing turnover patterns.


Examining explanatory variables alone or in combination showed that spatial and temporal turnover increased together, decreased with primary productivity and increased with habitat heterogeneity. The relationships between turnover and all variables became weaker when sampling effects were removed, but relationships with primary productivity and habitat heterogeneity remained relatively strong. In addition, spatial turnover increased strongly with spatial gamma diversity after sampling effects were removed.

Main conclusions

Our results show that spatial and temporal turnover are related to each other through a stochastic sampling process, but that each type of turnover is further influenced by deterministic processes. The relative influence of deterministic processes appears, however, to decrease with primary productivity and increase with habitat heterogeneity across an east–west longitudinal gradient in North America.