Identifying the drivers of spatial taxonomic and functional beta-diversity of British breeding birds

Joseph P. Wayman*, Jonathan P. Sadler, Thomas A.M. Pugh, Thomas E. Martin, Joseph A. Tobias, Thomas J. Matthews

*Corresponding author for this work

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Spatial variation in community composition may be driven by a variety of processes, including environmental filtering and dispersal limitation. While work has been conducted on the relative importance of these processes on various taxa and at varying resolutions, tests using high-resolution empirical data across large spatial extents are sparse. Here, we use a dataset on the presence/absence of breeding bird species collected at the 10 km × 10 km scale across the whole of Britain. Pairwise spatial taxonomic and functional beta diversity, and the constituent components of each (turnover and nestedness/richness loss or gain), were calculated alongside two other measures of functional change (mean nearest taxon distance and mean pairwise distance). Predictor variables included climate and land use measures, as well as a measure of elevation, human influence, and habitat diversity. Generalized dissimilarity modeling was used to analyze the contribution of each predictor variable to variation in the different beta diversity metrics. Overall, we found that there was a moderate and unique proportion of the variance explained by geographical distance per se, which could highlight the role of dispersal limitation in community dissimilarity. Climate, land use, and human influence all also contributed to the observed patterns, but a large proportion of the explained variance in beta diversity was shared between these variables and geographical distance. However, both taxonomic nestedness and functional nestedness were uniquely predicted by a combination of land use, human influence, elevation, and climate variables, indicating a key role for environmental filtering. These findings may have important conservation implications in the face of a warming climate and future land use change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number620062
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) volunteers for their hard work in collecting the data. We are also grateful to the Sir Stanley Stapley Trust for financial support (to JW). The computations described in this manuscript were performed using the University of Birmingham?s BlueBEAR HPC service. Funding. Central OA block grant processed through the University of Birmingham.


  • avifauna
  • beta-diversity
  • climate
  • community composition
  • GDM
  • spatial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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