Spatial and temporal patterns in bird communities along an elevational gradient in the tropical Andes

  • Understanding global biodiversity patterns is one of the main objectives of ecology. Spatial variation in species richness can be explained by several environmental factors. The relationships between species richness and environmental factors have been associated with latitudinal, longitudinal and elevational gradients. The number of species is determined by birth, death and migration rates of species in a given area. These rates are affected by abiotic and biotic factors acting at local and regional scales. Climatic seasonal variation may also influence biodiversity, directly through physiological limitations and indirectly through biotic interactions, vegetation structure and food availability. Climate and land use change are the main factors for landscape simplification and biotic homogenization. Thus, the study of community patterns across environmental gradients may help to predict the effect of projected environmental change. I investigated how abiotic and biotic factors influence different facets of bird diversity across an elevational gradient. My study was conducted along an elevational gradient spanning 2000 m within and around Podocarpus National Park and San Francisco reserve on the southeastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador. The climate is humid tropical montane with a bimodal rain regime. The region is characterized by evergreen premontane forest at low elevations, evergreen lower montane forest at mid elevations and upper montane forest at high elevations. The elevational gradient has natural continuous forests within the protected reserves and fragmented forests surrounding the reserves in a matrix of cattle pastures. To monitor bird diversity, I placed nine 20-m radius point counts within 18 one-hectare plots, in continuous and fragmented forest at 1000, 2000 and 3000 m a.s.l. I recorded and identified all birds for 10 minutes within each point count. Bird communities were sampled eight times per plot, in the most humid season and in the least humid season of 2014 and 2015. To estimate flower and fruit availability, I recorded all plants with open flowers and ripe fruits within each point count. To obtain the relative invertebrate availability, I assessed understory invertebrate fresh biomass using a standardized sweep-netting design along 100-metre borders of each plot. Vertical vegetation heterogeneity was estimated at eight layers above the ground within each point count. Temperature for each plot was obtained using an air temperature regionalization tool and precipitation through remote sensing techniques and meteorological data. In the first chapter of this thesis, I explored the effects of elevation, climate and vegetation structure on overall bird communities as well as on frugivorous and insectivorous birds. I found that elevation was mostly indirectly associated with bird diversity, jointly mediated via temperature, precipitation and vegetation structure. Additionally, elevation was directly and positively associated with both the overall bird community and with insectivores, but not with frugivores. My findings indicate a reduction of bird diversity due to climatic factors and vegetation structure with increasing elevation. However, the direct, positive effect of elevation suggests that bird diversity was higher than expected towards high elevations, probably due to spatial, biotic and evolutionary settings. In the second chapter, I analysed the influence of climate and resource availability on temporal variation of bird communities. I found a higher bird diversity in the least humid season than in the most humid season. The seasonality of the bird communities was mainly driven by temperature and precipitation. While temperature had a significant positive effect at high elevations, precipitation had a significant negative effect at low elevations. Resource availability had no significant effect. My findings suggest that the temporal fluctuations in bird communities likely occur due to climate constraints rather than due to resource limitations. In the third chapter, I studied the effect of forest fragmentation on taxonomic and functional bird diversity. I found that taxonomic diversity was higher in fragmented compared to continuous forests, while functional diversity was negatively affected by fragmentation, but only at low elevations. The increase of taxonomic diversity in disturbed habitats suggests an increase of habitat generalists, which may compensate the loss of forest specialists. My findings suggest that taxonomic diversity can be uncoupled from functional diversity in diverse communities at low elevations. My results show the effects of environmental factors on the spatio-temporal patterns of bird communities and the potentially uncoupled responses of taxonomic and functional diversity to forest fragmentation. My findings highlight that bird communities respond differently to abiotic and biotic factors across elevational gradients. Overall, my study helps to better understand the mechanisms that drive species communities in response to complex environmental conditions, which could be an essential contribution for the conservation of bird communities in the tropical Andes.

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Author:Vinicio SantillánORCiD
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Katrin Böhning-GaeseORCiDGND, Roland BrandlGND
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2019/10/12
Year of first Publication:2019
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2019/12/02
Release Date:2019/12/12
Page Number:190
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
Sammlung Biologie / Biologische Hochschulschriften (Goethe-Universität)
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht