Habitat use and the effects of disturbance on wintering birds using riparian habitats in Sonora, Mexico

by Villasen?or, Jose? Fernando.

Abstract (Summary)
Riparian systems are important for breeding bird communities in southwestern United States and northern Mexico, and are highly used as migratory corridors; however, their importance for wintering birds has not been assessed systematically. In order to assess the value of riparian areas for birds wintering in Sonora, data from 1,816 standard point counts were collected from 87 locations during January and February 2004-2006. A total of 253 species were detected across 14 vegetation types, including nine categories of riparian vegetation. The mean number of species and individuals detected per count was significantly higher in riparian vegetation than in non-riparian vegetation for migratory species, but not for residents. Riparian bird communities are different from those in non-riparian habitats, and contribute 22% of the regional avifauna’s species. The “Balanced Breeding Limitation Hypothesis” is discussed as a possible explanation of the relatively high abundance of migrant species wintering in riparian environments. Anthropogenic disturbance has imposed significant changes in riparian habitats, and is known to have negative effects on biological communities. To assess the effects of human induced disturbance on wintering bird communities, I recorded community composition, relative abundance of species, and three indicators of bird condition in relatively undisturbed and highly disturbed sites at three river systems in Sonora. My results indicate that there is, in general, little effect of disturbance on the composition of wintering communities, with less than 20% of the most common species having significant differences in their abundances between relatively undisturbed and highly disturbed sites. Condition indicators were similar in the two disturbance levels, but the mean heterophil/lymphocyte ratio in the blood of sampled birds showed increased levels of physiological stress in disturbed sites. A more experimental approach is needed to determine the specific cause of the stress expression in leucocytes. Modification of natural flooding regimes has resulted in the decrease and loss of riparian native corridors, the invasion of exotic plants, and changes in associated animal communities, as has been the case in the Colorado River Delta. In the final chapter, I present a summary of the changes experienced by riparian systems and some of the measures implemented for riparian restoration in the southwestern United States, and then I compare the scenario with that in central Sonora, where some of the same stressors exist on riparian systems, but where traditional management practices have also mitigated some of the negative consequences of flow control along mid-sized river systems. To place my own bird survey data in a broader context, I appended a compilation of more than 48,500 records from between 1849 and 2006 on the birds of Sonora from published accounts, museum specimens, and my own field work. They include a total of 533 species, nine of which were added from the compilation and my own field work. I also discuss the status of other species for the State’s inventory. ii
Bibliographical Information:


School:Montana Tech of the University of Montana

School Location:USA - Montana

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:birds riparian ecology ecological disturbances bird communities mexico


Date of Publication:

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