Land-use change promotes avian diversity at the expense of species with unique traits

Bernard W T Coetzee, Steven L. Chown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Land-use change may alter both species diversity and species functional diversity patterns. To test the idea that species diversity and functional diversity changes respond in differing ways to land-use changes, we characterize the form of the change in bird assemblages and species functional traits along an intensifying gradient of land use in the savanna biome in a historically homogeneous vegetation type in Phalaborwa, South Africa. A section of this vegetation type has been untransformed, and the remainder is now mainly characterized by urban and subsistence agricultural areas. Using morphometric, foraging and breeding functional traits of birds, we estimate functional diversity changes. Bird species richness and abundance are generally higher in urban and subsistence agricultural land uses, as well as in the habitat matrix connecting these regions, than in the untransformed area, a pattern mainly driven through species replacement. Functionally unique species, particularly ground nesters of large body size, were, however, less abundant in more utilized land uses. For a previously homogenous vegetation type, declines in the seasonality of energy availability under land-use change have led to an increase in local avian diversity, promoting the turnover of species, but reduced the abundance of functionally unique species. Although there is no simple relationship between land-use and diversity change, land-use change may suit some species, but such change may also involve functional homogenization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7610-7622
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Avifauna
  • body size
  • fourth-corner statistics
  • land-use change
  • multidimensional functional indices
  • urbanization

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