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Habitat heterogeneity, temperature, and primary productivity drive elevational gradients in avian species diversity

May 1, 2021

Aim

Anticipating and mitigating the impacts of climate change on species diversity in montane ecosystems requires a mechanistic understanding of drivers of current patterns of diversity. We documented the shape of elevational gradients in avian species richness in North America and tested a suite of a priori predictions for each of five mechanistic hypotheses to explain those patterns.

Location

United States

Methods

We used predicted occupancy maps generated from species distribution models for each of 646 breeding birds to document elevational patterns in avian species richness across the six largest U.S. mountain ranges. We used spatially explicit biotic and abiotic data to test five mechanistic hypotheses proposed to explain geographic variation in species richness.

Results

Elevational gradients in avian species richness followed a consistent pattern of low elevation plateau-mid-elevation peak (as per McCain, 2009). We found support for three of the five hypotheses to explain the underlying cause of this pattern: the habitat heterogeneity, temperature, and primary productivity hypotheses.

Main Conclusions

Species richness typically decreases with elevation, but the primary cause and precise shape of the relationship remain topics of debate. We used a novel approach to study the richness-elevation relationship and our results are unique in that they show a consistent relationship between species richness and elevation among 6 mountain ranges, and universal support for three hypotheses proposed to explain the underlying cause of the observed relationship. Taken together, these results suggest that elevational variation in food availability may be the ecological process that best explains elevational gradients in avian species richness in North America. Although much attention has focused on the role of abiotic factors, particularly temperature, in limiting species’ ranges, our results offer compelling evidence that other processes also influence (and may better explain) elevational gradients in species richness.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Habitat heterogeneity, temperature, and primary productivity drive elevational gradients in avian species diversity
DOI 10.1002/ece3.7341
Authors Kristen G. Dillon, Courtney J. Conway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Series Number
Index ID 70224283
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle

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