Modelling the responses of Australian subtropical rainforest birds to changes in environmental conditions along elevational gradients
Abstract Montane birds face significant threats from a warming climate, so determining the environmental factors that most strongly influence the composition of such assemblages is of critical conservation importance. Changes in temperature and other environmental conditions along elevational gradients are known to influence the species richness and abundance of bird assemblages occupying mountains. However, the role of species‐specific traits in mediating the responses of bird species to changing conditions remains poorly understood. We aimed to determine whether different bird species responded differently to changing environmental conditions in a relatively understudied biodiversity hotspot in subtropical rainforest on the east coast of Australia. We examined patterns in avian species richness and abundance along two rainforest elevational gradients using monthly point counts between September 2015 and October 2016. Environmental data on temperature, wetness, canopy cover and canopy height were collected simultaneously, and trait information on body size and feeding guild membership for each bird species was obtained from the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. We used a generalized linear mixed modelling (GLMM) framework to determine the drivers of species richness and abundance and to quantify species’ trait–environment interactions. GLMMs indicated that temperature alone was significantly positively correlated with species richness and abundance. Species richness declined with increasing elevation. When modelling abundance, we found that feeding guild membership did not significantly affect species’ responses to environmental conditions. In contrast, the predicted abundance of a species was found to depend on its body size, due to significant positive interactions between this trait, temperature and canopy cover. Our findings indicate that large‐bodied birds are likely to increase in abundance more rapidly than small‐bodied birds with continued climatic warming. These results underline the importance of temperature as a driving factor of avian community assembly along environmental gradients.
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