Desert bird associations with broad-scale boundary length: applications in avian conservation.
Current understanding regarding the effects of boundaries on bird communities has originated largely from studies of forest-non-forest boundaries in mesic systems. To assess whether broad-scale boundary length can affect bird community structure in deserts, and to identify patterns and predictors of species' associations useful in avian conservation, we studied relations between birds and boundary-length variables in Chihuahuan Desert landscapes. Operationally, a boundary was the border between two adjoining land covers, and broad-scale boundary length was the total length of such borders in a large area. Within 2-km radius areas, we measured six boundary-length variables. We analysed bird-boundary relations for 26 species, tested for assemblage-level patterns in species' associations with boundary-length variables, and assessed whether body size, dispersal ability and cowbird-host status were correlates of these associations. The abundances or occurrences of a significant majority of species were associated with boundary-length variables, and similar numbers of species were related positively and negatively to boundary-length variables. Disproportionately small numbers of species were correlated with total boundary length, land-cover boundary length and shrubland-grassland boundary length (variables responsible for large proportions of boundary length). Disproportionately large numbers of species were correlated with roadside boundary length and riparian vegetation-grassland boundary length (variables responsible for small proportions of boundary length). Roadside boundary length was associated (positively and negatively) with the most species. Species' associations with boundary-length variables were not correlated with body size, dispersal ability or cowbird-host status. Synthesis and applications. For the species we studied, conservationists can use the regressions we report as working models to anticipate influences of boundary-length changes on bird abundance and occurrence, and to assess avifaunal composition for areas under consideration for protection. Boundary-length variables associated with a disproportionate or large number of species can be used as foci for landscape management. Assessing the underlying causes of bird-boundary relations may improve the prediction accuracy of associated models. We therefore advocate local- and broad-scale manipulative experiments involving the boundary types with which species were correlated, as indicated by the regressions.