Ecological niche theory implies that more heterogeneous habitats have the potential to support greater biodiversity. Positive heterogeneity-diversity relationships have been found for most studies investigating animal taxa, although negative relationships also occur and the scale dependence of heterogeneity-diversity relationships is little known. We investigated multi-scale, heterogeneity-diversity relationships for bird communities in a semi-arid riparian landscape, using airborne LiDAR data to derive key measures of structural habitat complexity. Habitat heterogeneity-diversity relationships were generally positive, although the overall strength of relationships varied across avian life history guilds (R2 range: 0.03–0.41). Best predicted were the species richness indices of cavity nesters, habitat generalists, woodland specialists, and foliage foragers. Heterogeneity-diversity relationships were also strongly scale-dependent, with strongest associations at the 200-m scale (4 ha) and weakest associations at the 50-m scale (0.25 ha). Our results underscore the value of LiDAR data for fine-grained quantification of habitat structure, as well as the need for biodiversity studies to incorporate variation among life-history guilds and to simultaneously consider multiple guild functional types (e.g. nesting, foraging, habitat). Results suggest that certain life-history guilds (foliage foragers, cavity nesters, woodland specialists) are more susceptible than others (ground foragers, ground nesters, low nesters) to experiencing declines in local species richness if functional elements of habitat heterogeneity are lost. Positive heterogeneity-diversity relationships imply that riparian conservation efforts need to not only provide high-quality riparian habitat locally, but also to provide habitat heterogeneity across multiple scales.
Additional publication details
Guild-specific responses of avian species richness to LiDAR-derived habitat heterogeneity