Microclimate predicts within-season distribution dynamics of montane forest birds

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 

Frey, Sarah J. K.; Hadley, Adam S.; Betts, Matthew G. 2016. Microclimate predicts within-season distribution dynamics of montane forest birds. Diversity and Distributions. 22: 944-959. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12456


Aim: Climate changes are anticipated to have pervasive negative effects on biodiversity and are expected to necessitate widespread range shifts or contractions. Such projections are based upon the assumptions that (1) species respond primarily to broad-scale climatic regimes, or (2) that variation in climate at fine spatial scales is less relevant at coarse spatial scales. However, in montane forest landscapes, high degrees of microclimate variability could influence occupancy dynamics and distributions of forest species. Using high-resolution bird survey and under-canopy air temperature data, we tested the hypothesis that the high vagility of most forest bird species combined with the heterogeneous thermal regime of mountain landscapes would enable them to adjust initial settlement decisions to track their thermal niches.

Location: Western Cascade Mountains, Oregon, USA.

Methods: We used dynamic occupancy models to test the degree to which microclimate affects the distribution patterns of forest birds in a heterogeneous mountain environment. In all models we statistically accounted for vegetation structure, vegetation composition and potential biases due to imperfect detection of birds. We generated spatial predictions of forest bird distributions in relation to microclimate and vegetation structure.

Results: Fine-scale temperature metrics were strong predictors of bird distributions; effects of temperature on within-season occupancy dynamics were as large or larger (1–1.7 times) than vegetation effects. Most species (86.7%) exhibited apparent within-season occupancy dynamics. However, species were almost as likely to be warm associated (i.e., apparent settlement at warmer sites and/or vacancy at cooler sites; 53.3% of species) as cool associated (i.e., apparent settlement at cooler sites and/or vacancy at warmer sites; 46.7% of species), suggesting that microclimate preferences are species specific.

Main conclusions: High-resolution temperature data increase the quality of predictions about avian distribution dynamics and should be included in efforts to project future distributions. We hypothesize that microclimate-associated distribution patterns may reflect species’ potential for behavioural buffering from climate change in montane forest environments.

Keywords: dynamic occupancy models, forest bird distributions, forest structure and composition, microclimate, mountains, within-season movements.