MRE Symonds, CN Johnson (2006) Range size-abundance relationships in Australian passerines. Global Ecology and Biogeography 15: 143-152.

What’s it about?

We used a phylogenetic comparative approach to investigate the relationship between the geographic range size of species and their local abundance (population density). Range size / abundance relationships across species are typically expected to be positive (species that are widespread also tend to be found in high numbers). However, we found no evidence for this in Australian passerines. Moreover, we found that species with small distibutions actually have a very wide range of local abundances.

What’s the story behind it?

When I came to the end of my first post-doc in Melbourne I was looking around for further post-docs when I saw that Chris Johnson (then at James Cook University in Townsville, now at University of Tasmania) was commencing a project on the relationship between evolutionary age and patterns of distribution and abundance in birds. The project initially involved ecologists (myself and Chris) and some phylogeneticists, whose involvement was to produce the phylogenies that we would use to test these associations. Unfortunately the collaboration was not a happy experience, essentially leaving Chris and I only with ecological data to work with. Fortunately we produced a series of rather nice papers testing some broad macroecological hypotheses. This was the first of those.

Interesting factoid/mini rant: I may be remembering wrongly but I think 3 out of the 4 papers we produced were all initially submitted to Ecology but all were rejected (they ended up in Global Ecology and Biogeography, Journal of Biogeography and American Naturalist, so they couldn’t have been that bad). Anyway, it always bemused me that one of the main reasons for rejection was that the analyses were only based on Australian birds, and therefore had limited global interest and were probably ‘atypical’. Quite why this criticism does not apply to analyses of grass types in a single Kentucky meadow therefore escapes me.

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