An Empirical and Mechanistic Explanation of Abundance-Occupancy Relationships for a Critically Endangered Nomadic Migrant.
The positive abundance-occupancy relationship (AOR) is a pervasive pattern in macroecology. Similarly, the association between occupancy (or probability of occurrence) and abundance is also usually assumed to be positive and in most cases constant. Examples of AORs for nomadic species with variable distributions are extremely rare. Here we examined temporal and spatial trends in the AOR over 7 years for a critically endangered nomadic migrant that relies on dynamic pulses in food availability to breed. We predicted a negative temporal relationship, where local mean abundances increase when the number of occupied sites decreases, and a positive relationship between local abundances and the probability of occurrence. We also predicted that these patterns are largely attributable to spatiotemporal variation in food abundance. The temporal AOR was significantly negative, and annual food availability was significantly positively correlated with the number of occupied sites but negatively correlated with abundance. Thus, as food availability decreased, local densities of birds increased, and vice versa. The abundance-probability of occurrence relationship was positive and nonlinear but varied between years due to differing degrees of spatial aggregation caused by changing food availability. Importantly, high abundance (or occupancy) did not necessarily equate to high-quality habitat and may be indicative of resource bottlenecks or exposure to other processes affecting vital rates. Our results provide a rare empirical example that highlights the complexity of AORs for species that target aggregated food resources in dynamic environments.