Disentangling how landscape spatial and temporal heterogeneity affects Savanna birds

PLoS One. 2013 Sep 16;8(9):e74333. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074333. eCollection 2013.

Abstract

In highly seasonal tropical environments, temporal changes in habitat and resources are a significant determinant of the spatial distribution of species. This study disentangles the effects of spatial and mid to long-term temporal heterogeneity in habitat on the diversity and abundance of savanna birds by testing four competing conceptual models of varying complexity. Focussing on sites in northeast Australia over a 20 year time period, we used ground cover and foliage projected cover surfaces derived from a time series of Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery, rainfall data and site-level vegetation surveys to derive measures of habitat structure at local (1-100 ha) and landscape (100-1000s ha) scales. We used generalised linear models and an information theoretic approach to test the independent effects of spatial and temporal influences on savanna bird diversity and the abundance of eight species with different life-history behaviours. Of four competing models defining influences on assemblages of savanna birds, the most parsimonious included temporal and spatial variability in vegetation cover and site-scale vegetation structure, suggesting savanna bird species respond to spatial and temporal habitat heterogeneity at both the broader landscape scale and at the fine-scale. The relative weight, strength and direction of the explanatory variables changed with each of the eight species, reflecting their different ecology and behavioural traits. This study demonstrates that variations in the spatial pattern of savanna vegetation over periods of 10 to 20 years at the local and landscape scale strongly affect bird diversity and abundance. Thus, it is essential to monitor and manage both spatial and temporal variability in avian habitat to achieve long-term biodiversity outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Population Dynamics

Grant support

This study was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC http://www.arc.gov.au) Discovery Project DP0667029. Bird survey fieldwork was funded by CSIRO's Building Resilient Australian Biodiversity Assets Theme and the Australian Government Natural Heritage Trust. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.