Despotic, high-impact species and the subcontinental scale control of avian assemblage structure

Ecology. 2012 Mar;93(3):668-78. doi: 10.1890/10-2340.1.


Some species have disproportionate influence on assemblage structure, given their numbers or biomass. Most examples of such "strong interactors" come from small-scale experiments or from observations of the effects of invasive species. There is evidence that entire avian assemblages in open woodlands can be influenced strongly by individual species over very large areas in eastern Australia, with small-bodied species (< 50 g) being adversely affected. We used data from repeated surveys in 371 sites in seven districts across a region from Victoria to Queensland (> 2000 km). A series of linked Bayesian models was used to identify large-bodied (> or = 50 g) bird species that were associated with changes in occurrence and abundance of small-bodied species. One native species, the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala; family Meliphagidae), was objectively identified as the sole large-bodied species having similar detrimental effects in all districts, depressing occurrence of 57 of 71 small-bodied species. Adverse effects on abundances of small-bodied species were profound when the Noisy Miner occurred with mean site abundances > or = 1.6 birds/2 ha. The Noisy Miner may be the first species to have been shown to influence whole-of-avifauna assemblage structure through despotic aggressiveness over subcontinental scales. These substantial shifts in occurrence rates and abundances of small-bodied species flow on to alter species abundance distributions of entire assemblages over much of eastern Australia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Birds / anatomy & histology
  • Birds / classification*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Body Size
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological
  • Population Dynamics