The idea that local factors govern local richness has been dominant for years, but recent theoretical and empirical studies have stressed the influence of regional factors on local richness. Fewer species at a site could reflect not only the influence of local factors, but also a smaller regional pool. The possible dependency of local richness on the regional pool should be taken into account when addressing the influence of local factors on local richness. It is possible to account for this potential dependency by comparing relative species richness among sites, rather than species richness per se. We consider estimation of a metric permitting assessment of relative species richness in a typical situation in which not all species are detected during sampling sessions. In this situation, estimates of absolute or relative species richness need to account for variation in species detection probability if they are to be unbiased. We present a method to estimate relative species richness based on capture-recapture models. This approach involves definition of a species list from regional data, and estimation of the number of species in that list that are present at a site-year of interest. We use this approach to address the influence of urbanization on relative richness of avian communities in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. There is a negative relationship between relative richness and landscape variables describing the level of urban development. We believe that this metric should prove very useful for conservation and management purposes because it is based on an estimator of species richness that both accounts for potential variation in species detection probability and allows flexibility in the specification of a 'reference community.' This metric can be used to assess ecological integrity, the richness of the community of interest relative to that of the 'original' community, or to assess change since some previous time in a community.
Additional publication details
Relative species richness and community completeness: avian communities and urbanization in the mid-Atlantic states