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Species’ thermal preferences affect forest bird communities along landscape and local scale habitat gradients


J.-Y. Barnagaud, INRA, UMR1202 BIOGECO, FR-33610 Cestas, France, and Univ. of Bordeaux, UMR1202 BIOGECO, FR-33400 Talence, France. E-mail:


The spatial distributions of species, and the resulting composition of local communities, are shaped by a complex interplay between species’ climatic and habitat preferences. We investigated this interaction by analyzing how the climatic niches of bird species within given communities (measured as a community thermal index, CTI) are related to vegetation structure. Using 3129 bird communities from the French Breeding Bird Survey and an information theoretic multimodel inference framework, we assessed patterns of CTI variation along landscape scale gradients of forest cover and configuration. We then tested whether the CTI varies along local scale gradients of forest structure and composition using a detailed data set of 659 communities from six forests located in northwestern France. At landscape scale, CTI values decreased with increasing forest cover, indicating that bird communities were increasingly dominated by cold-dwelling species. This tendency was strongest at low latitudes and in landscapes dominated by unfragmented forest. At local scale, CTI values were higher in mature deciduous stands than in conifer or early stage deciduous stands, and they decreased consistently with distance from the edge of forest. These trends underpin the assertion that species’ habitat use along forest gradients is linked with their climatic niche, although it remains unclear to what extent it is a direct consequence of microclimatic variation among habitats, or a reflection of macroscale correlations between species’ thermal preferences and their habitat choice. Moreover, our results highlight the need to address issues of scale in determining how habitat and climate interact to drive the spatial distribution of species. This will be a crucial step towards accurate predictions of changes in the composition and dynamics of bird communities under global warming.