, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 161–173 | Cite as

The geographical distribution of rarity

  • T. W. Schoener
Original Papers


This paper asks the question: are most species that are censused as rare in particular localities rare throughout most of their geographic ranges, or are they common in substantial portions of their ranges elsewhere? The first alternative is labeled suffusive rarity and the second diffusive rarity. To answer this and similar questions, rarity can be measured as the fraction of censuses from some locality (e.g., a quadrat) in which a species occurs (occurrence rarity), or the relative or absolute abundance of the species averaged over all censuses from some locality (abundance rarity). The question was analyzed for occurrence-rarity data from Australian terrestrial birds distributed over 1° (104-km2) quadrats. The great majority of species that are rare in a particular quadrat are not rare and are often common in a substantial number of other quadrats, i.e., these avian species are much closer to the diffusive than suffusive portion of the rarity continuum. The data also show that 1) the distribution of sizes of geographic ranges, whether breeding or total, is highly skewed, appearing exponential to more concave; 2) species are much rarer in their nonbreeding than breeding ranges; 3) more widespread species, whether breeding or total ranges are considered, tend to occur more rarely in a slightly but significantly greater fraction of their ranges; and 4) hawks and owls, typified by high abundance rarity, show occurrence rarity in a greater fraction of their ranges than the average nonraptorial species. Although continental birds may be especially predilected toward diffusive rarity, the present analysis points to identification of centers of abundance as major ways of preserving those species contributing most to recorded instances of rarity. Similar analyses with other kinds of organisms would be most welcome.

Key words

Rarity Geographic distributions Occurrence frequency Birds (Australian terrestrial) 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson S (1985) The theory of range-size (RS) distributions. Am Mus Nov 2833:1–20Google Scholar
  2. Beehler BM, Pratt TK, Zimmerman, DA (1986) Birds of New Guinea. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  3. Bock CE (1984) Geographical correlates of abundance vs rarity in some North American winter land birds. Auk 101:266–273Google Scholar
  4. Bock CE, Ricklefs RE (1983) Range size and local abundance of some North American songbirds: a positive correlation. Am Nat 122:295–299Google Scholar
  5. Blakers M, Davies SJJF, Reilly PN (1984) The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown JH (1984) On the relationship between abundance and distribution of species. Am Nat 124:255–279Google Scholar
  7. Diamond JM (1976) Island biogeography and conservation: strategy and limitations. Science 193:1027–1029Google Scholar
  8. Goel NS, Richter-Dyn N (1974) Stochastic models in biology. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Grant PR (1986) Interspecific competition in fluctuating environments. In: Diamond J, Case TJ (eds) Community Ecology. Harper and Row, New York, pp 173–191Google Scholar
  10. Greig-Smith P (1964) Quantitative Plant Ecology. Butterworths, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Kershaw KA (1964) Quantitative and Dynamic Ecology. American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Kikkawa J (1982) Ecological association of birds and vegetation structure in wet tropical forests of Australia. Aust J Ecol 7:325–345Google Scholar
  13. Krishna Iyer PV (1949) The first and second moments of some probability distributions arising from points on a lattice and their applications. Biometrika 36:135–141Google Scholar
  14. Lacy RC, Bock CE (1986) The correlation between range size and local abundance of some North American birds. Ecology 67:258–260Google Scholar
  15. Pielou EC (1969) An Introduction to Mathematical Ecology. John Wiley & Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Preston FW (1948) The commonness, and rarity, of species. Ecology 29:254–283Google Scholar
  17. Rabinowitz D (1981) Seven forms of rarity. In: Synge H (ed) The Biological Aspects of Rare Plant Conservation. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp 205–217Google Scholar
  18. Rapoport EH (1982) Areography. Pergamon Press, Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  19. Schodde R (1975) Interim list of Australian songbirds. Melbourne: RAOU (cited in Sibley and Ahlquist 1985)Google Scholar
  20. Schoener TW (1968) Sizes of feeding territories among birds. Ecology 49:123–141Google Scholar
  21. Schoener TW (1986) Kinds of ecological communities-ecology becomes pluralistic. In: Diamond J, Case TJ (eds) Community Ecology. Harper and Row, New York, pp 467–479Google Scholar
  22. Sibley CG, Ahlquist JE (1985) The phylogeny and classification of the Australo-Papuan passerine birds. Emu 85:1–14Google Scholar
  23. Simberloff DS, Abele LG (1976) Island biogeography theory and conservation practice. Science 191:285–286Google Scholar
  24. Terborgh J (1976) Island biogeography and conservation: strategy and limitations. Science 193:1029–1030Google Scholar
  25. Wiens JA (1986) Spatial scale and temporal variation in studies of shrubsteppe birds. In: Diamond J, Case TJ (eds) Community Ecology. Harper and Row, New York, pp 154–172Google Scholar
  26. Wiens JA, Addicott JF, Case TJ, Diamond J (1986) Overview: the importance of spatial and temporal scale in ecological investigations. In: Diamond J, Case TJ (eds) Community Ecology. Harper and Row, New York, pp 145–153Google Scholar
  27. Wilcox BA, Murphy DD (1985) Conservation strategy: the effects of fragmentation on extinction. Am Nat 125:879–887Google Scholar
  28. Willis, JC (1922) Age and Area. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. W. Schoener
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations