Quantifying Relationships Between Bird and Butterfly Community Shifts and Environmental Change

Debinski, Diane
VanNimwegen, Ron
Debinski, Diane
Jakubauskas, Mark
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

Quantifying the manner in which ecological communities respond during a time of decreasing precipitation is a first step in understanding how they will respond to longer-term climate change. Here we coupled analysis of interannual variability in remotely sensed data with analyses of bird and butterfly community changes in montane meadow communities of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Landsat satellite imagery was used to classify these meadows into six types along a hydrological gradient. The northern portion of the ecosystem, or Gallatin region, has smaller mean patch sizes separated by ridges of mountains, whereas the southern portion of the ecosystem, or Teton region, has much larger patches within the Jackson Hole valley. Both support a similar suite of butterfly and bird species. The Gallatin region showed more overall among-year variation in the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) when meadow types were pooled within regions, perhaps because the patch sizes are smaller on average. Bird and butterfly communities showed significant relationships relative to meadow type and NDVI. We identified several key species that are tightly associated with specific meadow types along the hydrological gradient. Comparing taxonomic groups, fewer birds showed specific habitat affinities than butterflies, perhaps because birds are responding to differences in habitat structure among meadow types and using the landscape at a coarser scale than the butterflies. Comparing regions, the Teton region showed higher predictability of community assemblages as compared to the Gallatin region. The Gallatin region exhibited more significant temporal trends with respect to butterflies. Butterfly communities in wet meadows showed a distinctive shift along the hydrological gradient during a drought period (1997–2000). These results imply that the larger Teton meadows will show more predictable (i.e., static) species–habitat associations over the long term, but that the smaller Gallatin meadows may be an area that will exhibit the effects of global climate change faster.


This article is from Ecological Applications 16 (2006): 380. Posted with permission.