, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 275-294

First online:

Avian community structure along elevational gradients in the northeastern United States

  • K. P. AbleAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, State University of New York
  • , B. R. NoonAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, State University of New York

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Breeding birds were censused along four elevational gradients in the Adirondack Mountains, New York, and the Green Mountains, Vermont. The bird communities of the four gradients were basically similar in species composition, richness and amplitude patterns. Three measures of species diversity decreased with increasing elevation. Low-elevation communities contained higher proportions of rare species and the relative abundances conformed to the broken-stick distribution. At higher elevations the communities showed greater dominance and the dominance-diversity curves approached geometric series. The species characteristic of high-elevation communities had the broadest altitudinal distributions.

The upper and lower distributional limits of most species were independent of one another except at “ecotones” where marked changes in vegetation structure occurred. On each mountain, slightly more than half of the species’ limits coincided with ecotones. This is a significantly greater proportion than has been found in similar studies of tropical forest bird communities. In further contrast to tropical communities, we found no convincing cases of altitudinal competitive exclusion between species. Interspecific competition in the past seems to have been translated primarily into differences in habitat selection by temperate forest birds.

Many of the differences between temperate forest breeding bird communities and tropical ones can be understood in terms of the migratory nature of most of the temperate species and the lower species richness in temperature forests.