Disentangling the effects of multiple environmental drivers on population changes within communities
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJournal of Animal Ecology. 2018, 87 (4), 1034-1045. 10.1111/1365-2656.12829
1. The effects of different environmental drivers on the changes in species’ population abundances can be difficult to disentangle as they often act simultaneously. Researchers have built statistical models that include environmental variables (such as annual temperature) or species attributes (such as a species’ temperature preference), which are assumed to detect the impacts of specific drivers (such as climate change). However, these approaches are often applied separately or, if combined, not explicitly compared. 2. We show the complementary insights gained by applying both these approaches to a community dataset on Danish terrestrial birds. We use our analysis to compare the relative importance of climate change and agricultural land‐use change for the abundance changes within the community between 1983 and 2013. 3. Population models were fitted to the community data of species’ annual abundances with predictors comprising: species attributes (species’ temperature and habitat preferences), environmental variables (climatic and agricultural land‐use change variables) or both. Relationships between species’ abundances and environmental variables were used to identify the drivers associated with average abundance changes of species in the community. Relationships between species’ abundances and their attributes were used to understand the drivers causing interspecific variation in abundance changes. 4. Warmer winters were positively associated with community‐level abundances, and warm‐adapted species had more positive abundance changes than cold‐adapted ones. Agricultural land‐use area was negatively associated with community‐level abundances, and birds using a high proportion of meadow and habitat specialists had more negative abundance changes than birds using other habitats and habitat generalists. Effect sizes of environmental variables were larger for agricultural land‐use change while those of species attributes were larger for climate change. 5. The environmental data approach suggested that agricultural land‐use change has decreased the average abundances of species in the community, affecting total community size while the species attribute‐based approach suggested that climate change has caused variation in abundance among species, affecting community composition. Environmental variables and species attributes that are hypothesized to link to specific drivers can be used together to provide complementary information on the impacts of different drivers on communities.