Relations between Body Size, Abundance and Taxonomy of Birds Wintering in Britain and Ireland

Tim M. Blackburn, Simon Gates, John H. Lawton, Jeremy J. D. Greenwood


We examine the relation between body size, abundance, and taxonomy in the wintering bird assemblages in Britain and Ireland. The regression slope of abundance on body size across species in both assemblages is not significantly different from that predicted by an `energetic equivalence rule', but the proportion of the variance in abundance explained by body size is very low. Previous work on breeding bird assemblages has found the novel relation that the correlation between size and abundance across species within a tribe is itself positively correlated with the degree of taxonomic isolation of the tribe from other tribes in the bird fauna. We show that the same relation holds within bird tribes in the two wintering assemblages. Furthermore, evidence for this relation is found by using two different measures of bird abundance, despite these two abundance measures showing very different correlations with body size across species. Although these patterns in the data are consistent, some are not formally statistically significant (p=0.089 or greater). Excluding coastal, stocked, feral and recently colonizing species increased the significance of time since origin of a tribe on species abundances. We conclude that the relation between size and abundance in bird tribes is somehow related to bird taxonomy. While acknowledging the unlikely nature of such an effect, we tentatively propose hypotheses for two mechanisms that could produce the observed patterns.

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