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Realized climate niche breadth varies with population trend and distribution in North American birds


Joel Ralston
William V DeLuca
Richard E. Feldman



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Global Ecology and Biogeography


Aim: Ecological niche theory states that realized niche breadth should increase with population growth. This relationship has been studied extensively in the context of density-dependent habitat selection, and there is evidence that animal populations at higher density occupy a wider range of vegetation types. To our knowledge, no previous studies have investigated the relationship between population growth and climate niche breadth (i.e. the range of climatic conditions occupied). Here we aim to estimate the influence of population trend, as well as changes in distribution, on realized climate niche breadth. Location: North America. Methods: We estimated changes in realized climate niche breadth and distribution between 1980 and 2012 for 46 bird species using data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and standard ecological niche modelling techniques. We analysed changes in niche breadth in relation to population trends and distributional changes from the BBS for these same species. Results: Changes in realized climate niche breadth were significantly and positively associated with population growth, as reflected by BBS population trends, and with changes in distributional extent. Using variance partitioning, we showed that 44.2% of the variation in change in niche breadth can be explained by population trend, and that roughly half of this was independent of changes in distribution. Conclusions: Realized climate niche breadth is variable on an ecological timescale as a function of population trend. Mechanisms associated with changes in distribution and those acting within current species range limits appear to be equally important in driving this relationship. Observed changes in niche breadth may violate distribution modelling assumptions of niche conservatism. Studying how population growth influences realized climate niche breadth is therefore important for understanding dynamic species distributions, responses to climate change and our ability to model future species distributions.


Ralston, Joel; DeLuca, William V.; Feldman, Richard E.; King, David I. 2016. Realized climate niche breadth varies with population trend and distribution in North American birds. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 25(10): 1173-1180.


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