Flying over water: How "On bird species diversity" influenced aquatic ecology

Eduardo Ribeiro Cunha, Thaisa Sala Michelan, Katya E. Kovalenko, Sidinei Magela Thomaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Habitat complexity has long been known to influence animal community structure by increasing the number of available habitats. Fifty years have passed since MacArthur brothers published the seminal paper "On bird species diversity", which revolutionized studies of habitat structure. This paper first evidenced and quantified the relationship between species diversity (birds) and habitat structural complexity (the number of stratified layers of landscape vegetation). In this article, we aim to pay homage to R. H. MacArthur's contribution and to briefly analyze the citation history and influence of "On bird species diversity", focusing primarily on aquatic studies. We searched for all papers that cited "On bird species diversity" on Thomson Reuters (ISI-Web of Knowledge) and analyzed them for temporal citation trends. In addition, considering only aquatic papers, we explored whether and how habitat complexity was measured, as well as the ecological organization level, attributes of organisms, taxonomic groups and study design (observational or experimental). "On bird species diversity" citations increased over time, but this paper was less cited by limnologists compared to terrestrial and marine scientists. The majority of investigations in aquatic ecosystems quantified habitat complexity, but few used mathematical modeling. The high number of citations, which continues to increase, shows the great influence of "On bird species diversity" on ecological studies and typifies it as a classic in the ecological literature. However, the low citation frequency found in papers devoted to freshwater ecosystems indicates that limnologists in general neglect this original contribution in studies of habitat complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We acknowledge the comments of two anonymous reviewers. In addition, we acknowledge R. P. Mormul and M. C. Teixeira for critical reading. E. R. Cunha and T. S. Michelan are deeply grateful to the ‘Coordenadoria de Aperfeicoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior’ (CAPES) and the Brazilian Council of Research (CNPq), respectively, for scholarships. S. M. Thomaz is especially thankful to the Brazilian Council of Research (CNPq) for continuous funding through a Research Productivity Grant. We acknowledge the librarian Maria Salete Ribelatto Arita (University of Maringá) for helping in the literature survey.


  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Classical paper
  • Habitat complexity
  • Robert MacArthur
  • Scientometrics


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