Contrasting changes in the abundance and diversity of North American bird assemblages from 1971 to 2010

Aafke M. Schipper, Jonathan Belmaker, Murilo Dantas de Miranda, Laetitia M. Navarro, Katrin Böhning-Gaese, Mark J. Costello, Maria Dornelas, Ruud Foppen, Joaquín Hortal, Mark A.J. Huijbregts, Berta Martín-López, Nathalie Pettorelli, Cibele Queiroz, Axel G. Rossberg, Luca Santini, Katja Schiffers, Zoran J.N. Steinmann, Piero Visconti, Carlo Rondinini, Henrique M. Pereira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Although it is generally recognized that global biodiversity is declining, few studies have examined long-term changes in multiple biodiversity dimensions simultaneously. In this study we quantified and compared temporal changes in the abundance, taxonomic diversity, functional diversity and phylogenetic diversity of bird assemblages, using roadside monitoring data of the North American Breeding Bird Survey from 1971 to 2010. We calculated 12 abundance and diversity metrics based on five year average abundances of 519 species for each of 768 monitoring routes. We did this for all bird species together as well as for four sub-groups based on breeding habitat affinity (grassland, woodland, wetland and shrubland breeders). The majority of the biodiversity metrics increased or remained constant over the study period, whereas the overall abundance of birds showed a pronounced decrease, primarily driven by declines of the most abundant species. These results highlight how stable or even increasing metrics of taxonomic, functional or phylogenetic diversity may occur in parallel with substantial losses of individuals. We further found that patterns of change differed among the species sub-groups, with both abundance and diversity increasing for woodland birds and decreasing for grassland breeders. The contrasting changes between abundance and diversity and among the breeding habitat groups underscore the relevance of a multi-faceted approach to measuring biodiversity change. Our findings further stress the importance of monitoring the overall abundance of individuals in addition to metrics of taxonomic, functional or phylogenetic diversity, thus confirming the importance of population abundance as an essential biodiversity variable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3948-3959
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number12
Early online date12 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Biodiversity change
  • Biodiversity metrics
  • Functional diversity (FD)
  • Phylogenetic diversity (PD)
  • Taxonomic diversity (TD)
  • Species abundance


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