Effects of spatial scale and taxonomic group on partitioning of butterfly and bird diversity in the Great Basin, USA

Erica Fleishman, Christopher J. Betrus, Robert B. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Different taxonomic groups perceive and respond to the environment at different scales. We examined the effects of spatial scale on diversity patterns of butterflies and birds in the central Great Basin of the western USA. We partitioned the landscape into three hierarchical spatial levels: mountain ranges, canyons, and sites within canyons. We evaluated the relative contribution of each level to species richness and quantified changes in species composition at each level. Using additive partitioning, we calculated the contribution of spatial level to overall species diversity. Both canyon and mountain range had significant effects on landscape-level species richness of butterflies and birds. Species composition of butterflies was more similar in space than species composition of birds, but assemblages of both groups that were closer together in space were less similar than assemblages that were further apart. These results likely reflect differences in resource specificity and the distribution of resources for each group. Additive partitioning showed that alpha diversity within canyon segments was the dominant component of overall species richness of butterflies but not of birds. As the size of a sampling unit increased, its contribution to overall species richness of birds increased monotonically, but the relationship between spatial scale and species richness of butterflies was not linear. Our work emphasizes that the most appropriate scales for studying and conserving different taxonomic groups are not the same. The ability of butterflies and birds to serve as surrogate measures of each other's diversity appears to be scale-dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-685
Number of pages11
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Many thanks to Marti Anderson for advice on use of NPMANOVA and for making additional software available to us. Thanks to Ralph MacNally and Jon Gering for valuable comments on the methods and manuscript. We thank Melissa Betrus for assistance with data collection and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest for logistic support in the field. Support for this research was provided by the Nevada Biodiversity Research and Conservation Initiative, the Joint Fire Sciences Program via the Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Zoology at Miami University.


  • Additive partitioning
  • Alpha diversity
  • Community similarity
  • Conservation
  • Great Basin
  • Hierarchy theory
  • Non-parametric analysis of variance
  • Spatial scale
  • Species composition
  • Surrogate species
  • Western USA


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