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Assessing trends in biodiversity over space and time using the example of British breeding birds

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Abstract

Partitioning biodiversity change spatially and temporally is required for effective management, both to determine whether action is required and whether it should be applied at a regional level or targeted more locally. As biodiversity is a multifaceted concept, comparative analyses of different indices, focussing on different components of biodiversity change (evenness vs. abundance), give better information than a single headline index. We model changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of British breeding birds using generalized additive models applied to count data collected between 1994 and 2011. Abundance estimates, accounting for differences in detectability, are then used in community-specific (farmland and woodland) biodiversity indices. Temporal trends in biodiversity, and change points in those trends, are assessed at different spatial scales. The geometric mean of relative abundance, a headline indicator of biodiversity change, is assessed together with a goodness-of-fit evenness measure focussing separately on the rare and common species in the communities. Our analysis reveals predominantly declining trends in biodiversity indices for farmland and woodland bird communities in southern and eastern England, perhaps signalling environmental deterioration in this part of the country. Conversely, our results also show generally more positive trends in the north of Britain, consistent with north-south gradient expectations from the effects of climate change. We also reveal predominantly positive changes in evenness for the common species and negative changes in evenness for the rarer species in the communities, consistent with previously documented homogenization in bird communities. Synthesis and applications. Bird populations are seen as good indicators of ecosystem health, and trends for different communities can be indicative of wider biodiversity changes within their respective habitats. However, temporal trends in biodiversity at the national level may miss opposing trends occurring at different locations within the nation. We develop methods that allow assessment of how temporal trends vary spatially and whether these trends differ for the rare and common species in the respective communities. Our methods may be used to test hypotheses about the processes that generate the trends. Bird populations are seen as good indicators of ecosystem health, and trends for different communities can be indicative of wider biodiversity changes within their respective habitats. However, temporal trends in biodiversity at the national level may miss opposing trends occurring at different locations within the nation. We develop methods that allow assessment of how temporal trends vary spatially and whether these trends differ for the rare and common species in the respective communities. Our methods may be used to test hypotheses about the processes that generate the trends.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1650-1660
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Volume51
Issue number6
Early online date2 Aug 2014
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2014

    Research areas

  • Change points in trends, Generalized additive models, Geometric mean index, Good-of-fit measures, Long-term trends, Rare species, Spatio-temporal modelling

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