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Habitat Heterogeneity and Avian Community Structure in North American Grasslands

John A. Wiens
The American Midland Naturalist
Vol. 91, No. 1 (Jan., 1974), pp. 195-213
DOI: 10.2307/2424522
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2424522
Page Count: 19
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Habitat Heterogeneity and Avian Community Structure in North American Grasslands
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Abstract

In a variety of environments, patchiness of habitat structure appears related to faunal diversity. I examined the relations between vegetational heterogeneity and several attributes of avian communities over a range of North American grassland and shrub steppe situations. Habitat heterogeneity was measured by assessing the variability in vertical density of vegetation within clustered point samples, and an index to express this horizontal patchiness was derived. Heterogeneity was directly related to the areal coverage of bare ground and woody vegetation and to patchiness in litter distribution of sample plots, and inversely related to grass coverage and litter depth. Heterogeneity generally increased with decreasing annual precipitation and primary production, tall grass-prairie sites being the least and western shrub steppe the most heterogeneous. Analysis of breeding bird population censuses from these plots revealed no apparent relationships between habitat heterogeneity and the diversity of breeding avifaunas or the extent of spatial (territorial) overlap between species. The density of breeding bird populations decreased slightly witth increasing vegetation patchiness; the standing crop biomass of the avian community, however, decreased markedly as heterogeneity increased. This pattern appeared to result from a replacement of large-sized species by medium-sized species in the transition from tall grass to short grass areas and an increasing dominance of small-sized species in the western Palouse and shrub steppe sites.

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