New study uses eBird to understand role of urban and agricultural areas during migration

By Team eBird July 2, 2014

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography by Frank La Sorte, Morgan Tingley, and Allen Hurlbert uses eBird data to examine patterns of species richness and species composition within different land-use categories across the annual cycle in North America. The study contrasts how bird communities change from month-to-month within agricultural and urban areas and also within areas of intact vegetation such as forests or grasslands. The authors found that human transformed landscapes contained fewer species and had lower turnover in species composition across the annual cycle relative to areas of intact vegetation. These differences were particularly pronounced for bird communities located in the western portion of the continent. This is the first study to examine how human land-use change has impacted bird diversity across the full annual cycle, and the study’s findings highlight the importance of agricultural and urban areas for migratory birds, especially in the eastern portion of the continent.

Full Abstract


Migration is often identified as the most vulnerable period in the annual cycle for birds, and land-use change is likely to have altered how avian populations are regulated during migration events. However, the consequences of land-use change for avian diversity are typically assessed based on annual surveys of breeding communities with little consideration given to migration or other phases of the annual cycle.


Forty-four North American ecoregions.


eBird avian occurrence data is used to estimate, at a monthly temporal resolution for the combined period 2004 to 2013, how species richness and temporal turnover in species composition is structured within years across a land-use gradient (intact vegetation, agricultural and urban).


Species richness peaked on average during spring and autumn migrations. Intact vegetation had the highest and urban areas the lowest species richness on average. Despite differences in community size, the three land-use categories had similar patterns of within-year temporal turnover, suggesting analogous effects of geographic diffusion by migrating species. Agricultural and urban areas had comparatively dampened temporal turnover across the annual cycle, suggesting more homogeneous within-year species compositions. Relative to eastern ecoregions, differences in species richness and temporal turnover among land-use categories were substantially more pronounced in western ecoregions.

Main conclusions

Agricultural and urban areas have lower species richness and reduced within-year temporal turnover across the annual cycle relative to areas of intact vegetation, particularly in the west. These findings suggest that avian diversity has been simplified across the annual cycle through the influence of human activities, with human-transformed landscapes maintaining a degree of relevance for migratory birds, especially in the east.