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Determinants of local abundance in a major radiation of Australian passerines (Aves: Meliphagoidea)

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Abstract Aim 

To identify the factors that contribute to variation in abundance (population density), and to investigate whether habitat breadth and diet breadth predict macroecological patterns in a suborder of passerine birds (Meliphagoidea). Location 

Australia (including Tasmania). Methods 

Mean abundance data were collated from site surveys of bird abundance (the Australian Bird Count); range size and latitudinal position data from published distribution maps; and body mass and diet breadth information from published accounts. A diversity index of habitats used (habitat breadth) was calculated from the bird census data. We used bivariate correlation and multiple regression techniques, employing two phylogenetic comparative methods: phylogenetic generalized least squares and independent contrasts. Results 

Body mass and latitude were the only strong predictors of abundance, with larger-bodied and lower-latitude species existing at lower densities. Together, however, body mass and latitude explained only 11.1% of the variation in mean abundance. Range size and habitat breadth were positively correlated, as were diet breadth and body mass. However, neither range size, nor habitat breadth and diet breadth, explained patterns in abundance either directly or indirectly. Main conclusions 

Levels of abundance (population density) in meliphagoid birds are most closely linked to body mass and latitudinal position, but not range size. As with many other macroecological analyses, we find little evidence for aspects of niche breadth having an effect on patterns of abundance. We hypothesize that evolutionary age may also have a determining effect on why species tend to be rarer (less abundant) in the tropics.
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Keywords: Abundance; Bergmann's rule; Passeriformes; body size; diet breadth; geographical range size; habitat breadth; latitude; population density; rarity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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