Applying a regional community concept to forest birds of eastern North America
AbstractThe regional community concept embraces the idea that species interactions across large areas shape both the geographic/ecological distributions and the local abundances of populations. Within this framework, I analyzed the distribution and abundance of 79 species of land birds across 142 ca. 10-ha census plots from standardized breeding bird censuses in deciduous and mixed forests of eastern North America. To characterize the regional ecological space, plots were ordinated on the basis of species abundances. Within the regional community defined by these synthetic axes, the distribution and abundance of individual species did not appear to be shaped by competition or to reflect the adaptations of individuals: (i) local abundance and population extent across the ordination axes were unrelated, (ii) pairwise correlation coefficients of species abundances were centered on 0, (iii) average species distribution and abundance were independent of the number of close relatives, and (iv) distribution and abundance exhibited no evolutionary (phylogenetic) conservatism. To explain these seemingly random patterns, I speculate that species are approximately evenly matched competitors over much of the region and that their distributions and relative abundances are determined by the labile coevolutionary outcomes of interactions with specialized pathogens. Thus, despite the appearance that random processes determine patterns in the distribution and abundance of populations in the regional community, it is plausible that species-specific deterministic interactions are responsible. Although competition is a dominant force in ecological communities, variation in the distribution and abundance of individual species might instead reflect the outcome of interactions with specialized antagonists, including pathogens.