Exploring the ecological processes driving geographical patterns of breeding bird richness in British Columbia, Canada

Jessica L. Fitterer, Trisalyn A. Nelson, Nicholas C. Coops, Michael A. Wulder, Nancy A. Mahony

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


British Columbia (BC), Canada, has a diverse landscape that provides breeding habitat for .300 avian species, and the recent development of the BC Breeding Bird Atlas data set presents key information for exploring the landscape conditions which lead to biological richness. We used the volunteer-collected raw breeding bird evidence data set to analyze the effects of sampling biases on spatial distribution of observed breeding bird species and implemented regression tree analysis (Random Forests) to examine the influence of productivity, ambient energy, and habitat heterogeneity on independently measured breeding bird richness. Results indicated that total breeding species richness is correlated with total survey effort (α < 0.001). By stratifying species richness by survey effort, we observed that ambient energy is the top-ranked environmental predictor of breeding bird richness across BC, which, when used in combination with a number of other environmental variables, explains ∼40% of the variation in richness. Using our modeled relationships, we predicted breeding bird species richness in the areas of BC not presently surveyed between three and six hours. The majority of the productive Boreal Plains, the southern portion of the Taiga Plains region, the lowlands of the Southern and Central Interior, along the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the coastal areas of the Georgia Depression are predicted to have the highest categories of breeding richness (35-57 unique species). Our results support ongoing species diversity gradient research, which identifies ambient energy as an important factor influencing species diversity distributions in the Northern Hemisphere. By linking breeding bird richness to environmental data derived from remotely sensed data and systematically collected climate data, we demonstrate the potential to monitor shifts in ambient energy as a surrogate for vertebrate habitat condition affecting population levels. By analyzing the influence of survey effort on species richness metrics, we also highlight the need to consider adding attributes to the raw breeding bird data set to describe observer experience, such as hours or seasons spent surveying, and provide survey dates to allow greater flexibility for removing survey bias. These additions can increase the utility of atlas data for species richness studies useful for conservation planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)888-903
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Ambient energy
  • Breeding Bird Atlas
  • British Columbia
  • Canada
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Productivity
  • Species richness
  • Volunteer-based survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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