Temperature and competition interact to structure Himalayan bird communities

Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Mar 14;285(1874):20172593. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2593.


Longstanding theory predicts that competitive interactions set species' range limits in relatively aseasonal, species-rich regions, while temperature limits distributions in more seasonal, species-poor areas. More recent theory holds that species evolve narrow physiological tolerances in aseasonal regions, with temperature being an important determining factor in such zones. We tested how abiotic (temperature) and biotic (competition) factors set range limits and structure bird communities along strong, opposing, temperature-seasonality and species-richness gradients in the Himalayas, in two regions separated by 1500 km. By examining the degree to which seasonal elevational migration conserves year-round thermal niches across species, we show that species in the relatively aseasonal and speciose east are more constrained by temperature compared with species in the highly seasonal west. We further show that seasonality has a profound effect on the strength of competition between congeneric species. Competition appears to be stronger in winter, a period of resource scarcity in the Himalayas, in both the east and the west, with similarly sized eastern species more likely to segregate in thermal niche space in winter. Our results indicate that rather than acting in isolation, abiotic and biotic factors mediate each other to structure ecological communities.

Keywords: body mass; elevational distributions; range limits; seasonality; species richness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Distribution*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biota*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • India
  • Temperature

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4013998