Geographic coincidence of richness, mass, conservation value, and response to climate of U.S. land birds

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Grundel, Ralph, Frohnapple, Krystalynn J., Zaya, David N., Glowacki, Gary A., Weiskerger, Chelsea J., Patterson, Tamatha A., and Pavlovic, Noel B.
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Distributional patterns across the United States of five avian community breeding-season characteristics—community biomass, richness, constituent species' vulnerability to extirpation, percentage of constituent species' global abundance present in the community (conservation index, CI), and the community's position along the ecological gradient underlying species composition (principal curve ordination score, PC)—were described, their covariation was analyzed, and projected effects of climate change on the characteristics and their covariation were modeled. Higher values of biomass, richness, and CI were generally preferred from a conservation perspective. However, higher values of these characteristics often did not coincide geographically; thus regions of the United States would differ in their value for conservation depending on which characteristic was chosen for setting conservation priorities. For instance, correlation patterns between characteristics differed among Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. Among the five characteristics, community richness and the ecological gradient underlying community composition (PC) had the highest correlations with longitude, with richness declining from east to west across the contiguous United States. The ecological gradient underlying composition exhibited a demarcation near the 100th meridian, separating the contiguous United States grossly into two similar-sized avian ecological provinces. The combined score (CS), a measure of species' threat of decline or extirpation, exhibited the strongest latitudinal pattern, declining from south to north. Over ∼75% of the lower United States, projected changes in June temperature and precipitation to year 2080 were associated with decreased averaged values of richness, biomass, and CI, implying decreased conservation value for birds. The two ecological provinces demarcated near the 100th meridian diverged from each other, with projected changes in June temperatures and precipitation from the year 2000 to 2080 suggesting increased ecological dissimilarity between the eastern and western halves of the lower United States with changing climate. Anticipated climate-related changes in the five characteristics by 2080 were more weakly correlated with latitude or longitude then the responses themselves, indicating less distinct geographic patterns of characteristic change than in the characteristics themselves. Climate changes projected for 2080 included geographic shifts in avian biomass, CS, and PC values, a moderate overall decline in CI, and general decline in species richness per site.


Grundel, R., K. J. Frohnapple, D. N. Zaya, G. A. Glowacki, C. J. Weiskerger, T. A. Patterson, and N. B. Pavlovic. 2014. Geographic coincidence of richness, mass, conservation value, and response to climate of U.S. land birds. Ecological Applications 24:791–811.