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Scalar effects of vegetation on bird communities in an urbanizing desert ecosystem

Abstract

We analyzed how urbanization in a desert ecosystem affects avian distribution at two distinct scales. At the regional level, we compared how urban land use configuration, relative to its surrounding agricultural fields and desert, affected the distribution of native and exotic species. While exotic species are isolated to the city; native species actively utilize the entire region, even occurring at higher densities in the city than in some areas of the desert. We also used this approach to compare four foraging guilds of birds: granivores, nectivores, omnivores, and insectivores. Granivores occurred mostly in agricultural fields and in the surrounding urban areas. Nectivores and omnivores occurred throughout the region, but mostly within the city. In contrast, insectivores occurred mostly in the desert. At a more local scale, we tested how the abundance of native species, exotics species and the foraging guilds of birds responded to vegetation cover measured at varying spatial scales (0.1 km–10 km). Bird guilds responded to vegetation at different scales, depending on the association between their life history and vegetation. Granivore abundance was most strongly correlated with vegetation at relatively fine spatial scales, followed by nectivores and omnivores at larger scales; whereas insectivores did not correlate with vegetation at any scale. Exotic and native species showed strikingly opposite trends in their association with vegetation. Native species showed the best fit at the smallest spatial scale and became insignificant at larger scales, whereas the highest correlation of exotic species with vegetation was at moderate to larger scales. While guild relationship with vegetation appears straightforward, the differences between exotic and native birds may indicate a complex response to environmental factors. Possibly, native species are more sensitive than exotics on vegetation abundance for food and shelter, which in the desert is highly variable depending on water availability. In contrast, exotic species, tightly connected to the urban infrastructure, likely respond to the enhanced and homogenized resource abundance characteristic of desert cities. Our results suggest that relationships between birds and vegetation may bear important information that can be revealed when considering smaller class levels than total species diversity.

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Correspondence to Jason S. Walker.

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Walker, J.S., Shochat, E. Scalar effects of vegetation on bird communities in an urbanizing desert ecosystem. Urban Ecosyst 13, 155–167 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-009-0112-0

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Keywords

  • Bird communities
  • Scalar effects
  • Urban ecology
  • Canopy cover