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Avian distribution patterns in the Guiana Shield: implications for the delimitation of Amazonian areas of endemism

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Abstract Aim 

To develop a methodology for defining the boundaries of the Guianan area of endemism using complementary approaches that include GIS tools, multivariate statistics and analyses of physical barriers in the distribution patterns of an entire endemic avifauna. As a case study, I used the distribution patterns of lowland terra firme forest birds. Location 

Guiana Shield, northern South America. Methods 

I identified Guianan endemics using the ornithological literature, subsequently gathering distributional data for these taxa using mainly museum collections and my own fieldwork in the region. I used these distributional data to map the spatial patterns of endemicity in the region and to compare distributions across taxa. I employed community composition data from 34 localities from throughout the Guiana Shield to identify spatial patterns of clustering using an ordination analysis (non-metric multidimensional scaling), and to recognize the region’s main biogeographical barriers for birds using Monmonier’s algorithm. Results 

At least 88 avian taxa are restricted to the terra firme forests of the Guianan area of endemism, which is roughly delimited by the Amazon, Negro and Branco rivers. These large rivers, however, are not the only boundaries. I identified seven additional barriers, including medium-sized rivers, non-forested areas and mountains, which also contribute to delimiting the area of endemism. Within the endemic avifauna, I identified three distinct distribution patterns. The ordination analysis shows the presence of two distinct avifaunas within the Guiana Shield. Main conclusions 

Although the proposed boundaries of the Guianan area of endemism are consistent with previously postulated configurations, this study reveals a more complex delimitation than formerly recognized, highlighting the importance of several landscape features besides large rivers, and the existence of three distinct distributional patterns within one endemic avifauna. The Branco/Negro interfluvium, often included within this area of endemism, actually represents a transition zone between two distinct avifaunas. The longstanding view of the Amazon Basin as a mosaic of parapatric areas of endemism delimited by major rivers appears to be an oversimplification, at least for the Guiana Shield. This finding suggests the need for more rigorous approaches to re-evaluate the traditional boundaries of such areas.
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Keywords: Amazonia; Guiana Shield; Monmonier’s algorithm; area of endemism; avifauna; biogeography; birds; geographic barriers; riverine barriers; transition zones

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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