Bird and mammal species composition in distinct geographic regions and their relationships with environmental factors across multiple spatial scales

Rafi Kent, Avi Bar-Massada, Yohay Carmel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global patters of species distributions and their underlying mechanisms are a major question in ecology, and the need for multi-scale analyses has been recognized. Previous studies recognized climate, topography, habitat heterogeneity and disturbance as important variables affecting such patterns. Here we report on analyses of species composition - environment relationships among different taxonomic groups in two continents, and the components of such relationships, in the contiguous USA and Australia. We used partial Canonical Correspondence Analysis of occurrence records of mammals and breeding birds from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, to quantify relationships between species composition and environmental variables in remote geographic regions at multiple spatial scales, with extents ranging from 105 to 107 km2 and sampling grids from 10 to 10,000 km2. We evaluated the concept that two elements contribute to the impact of environmental variables on composition: the strength of species' affinity to an environmental variable, and the amount of variance in the variable. To disentangle these two elements, we analyzed correlations between resulting trends and the amount of variance contained in different environmental variables to isolate the mechanisms behind the observed relationships. We found that climate and land use-land cover are responsible for most explained variance in species composition, regardless of scale, taxonomic group and geographic region. However, the amount of variance in species composition attributed to land use / land cover (LULC) was closely related to the amount of intrinsic variability in LULC in the USA, but not in Australia, while the effect of climate on species composition was negatively correlated to the variability found in the climatic variables. The low variance in climate, compared to LULC, suggests that species in both taxonomic groups have strong affinity to climate, thus it has a strong effect on species distribution and community composition, while the opposite is true for LULC. We tested the effects of different environmental factors on the species composition of birds and mammals at multiple spatial scales, from local to continental, in two continents. We used a relatively novel approach for analyzing the relationship, breaking them down to components of ecological affinity and amount of variance. We found that climate has the strongest per unit effect on both birds and mammals at all scales, however, as variance in land use is high, LULC variables also have a string effect on species composition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1963-1971
Number of pages9
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Canonical correspondence analysis
  • Environmental determinants
  • Multiple scales
  • Occurrence data

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


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