, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 261-273

Riparian Bird Communities as Indicators of Human Impacts Along Mediterranean Streams

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Abstract

Riparian areas link aquatic and terrestrial habitats, supporting species-rich bird communities, which integrate both terrestrial and aquatic processes. For this reason, inclusion of riparian birds in stream bioassessment could add to the information currently provided by existing programs that monitor aquatic organisms. To assess if bird community metrics could indicate stream conditions, we sampled breeding birds in the riparian zone of 37 reaches in 5 streams draining watersheds representing a gradient of agricultural intensity in central Italy. As a more direct indicator of water quality, stream macroinvertebrates were also sampled for computation of the Italian Extended Biotic Index (IBE). An anthropogenic index was calculated within 1 km of sampled reaches based on satellite-derived land-use classifications. Predictive models of macroinvertebrate integrity based on land-use and avian metrics were compared using an information-theoretic approach (AIC). We also determined if stream quality related to the detection of riverine species. Apparent bird species diversity and richness peaked at intermediate levels of land-use modification, but increased with IBE values. Water quality did not relate to the detection of riverine species as a guild, but two species, the dipper Cinclus cinclus and the grey wagtail Motacilla cinerea, were only observed in reaches with the highest IBE values. Small-bodied insectivorous birds and arboreal species were detected more often in reaches with better water quality and in less modified landscapes. In contrast, larger and granivorous species were more common in disturbed reaches. According to the information-theoretic approach, the best model for predicting water quality included the anthropogenic index, bird species diversity, and an index summarizing the trophic structure of the bird community. We conclude that, in combination with landscape-level information, the diversity and trophic structure of riparian bird communities could serve as a rapid indicator of stream-dwelling macroinvertebrates and, therefore, degradation of in-stream biotic integrity.