Niche breadth and vertebrate sensitivity to habitat modification: signals from multiple taxa across replicated landscapes

  • Kenneth F. KellnerEmail author
  • Joseph E. Duchamp
  • Robert K. Swihart
Original Paper


Wildlife species differ in their resistance to landscape modifications including habitat loss and fragmentation. We hypothesized that niche breadth is positively related to both (1) overall species occurrence and (2) species response to landscape modification, because species with a wide range of diet and/or habitat preferences should be able to colonize and survive in more patches than specialized species. We tested the hypothesis using occurrence data from 65 species spanning multiple taxonomic groups (birds, small mammals, bats, and aquatic turtles) collected in thirty-five 23 km2 landscapes in the Midwestern United States that varied in degree of modification. Niche breadth for each species was obtained from a combination of sources on habitat and diet requirements. We fit models for occurrence and response to modification as a function of niche breadth while accounting for imperfect detection and phylogenetic relatedness among species. As predicted, niche breadth was positively related to occurrence for all taxonomic groups. Response to landscape modification was positively related to niche breadth for birds, but there was no effect for the other taxonomic groups. Neither imperfect detection nor phylogeny affected relationships qualitatively. The lack of an effect of niche breadth on response to modification may be due to a long history of human land-use in the study region, resulting in assemblages in which all extant species have at least some resistance to agricultural disturbance.


Agriculture Habitat fragmentation Habitat loss Imperfect detection Niche breadth 



We thank hundreds of private landowners who permitted us to conduct our research on their lands. Jeff Moore organized and led sampling efforts for birds and small mammals. Julie Crick, Tim Preuss, Linda Connolly, and Nate Engbrecht coordinated field sampling and digitizing, and over three dozen field technicians collected data. The Upper Wabash Ecosystem Project was funded by the John S. Wright Fund, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University. Financial support also was received from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 2000-04649, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project 1014271, and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Supplementary material

10531_2019_1785_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (218 kb)
Appendix S1. Species included in the analysis, phylogenetic trees for each taxonomic group, habitat effects on detection probabilities, and JAGS model code for the analysis (PDF 218 kb)
10531_2019_1785_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (155 kb)
Appendix S2. Complete model output (posterior summaries) for the level 1 (plot-scale) and level 2 (landscape-scale) analyses (PDF 156 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth F. Kellner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joseph E. Duchamp
    • 1
    • 3
  • Robert K. Swihart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Camp Fire Program in Wildlife ConservationState University of New York ESFSyracuseUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyIndiana University of PennsylvaniaIndianaUSA

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