Publication Details

Baker, J., French, K. & Whelan, R. J. (2002). The edge effect and ecotonal species: Bird communities across a natural edge in southeastern Australia. Ecology, 83 (11), 3048-3059.


Ecotones have been considered as unique environments, and the concepts of edge effect and ecotonal species have been widely used, especially in avian community ecology. We studied the patterns of bird densities across heath-wood edges at replicated sites in three locations in southeastern Australia. Multivariate analysis showed that the bird community in the ecotone was intermediate between the heath and wood communities, indicating that the ecotone contained a mixing of species rather than a unique bird community. ANOVA showed a modest increase in bird density at the wood side of the ecotone, which may be partly due to sampling biases rather than to some inherent habitat value in the ecotone. The outstanding pattern was that bird density and species richness in the wood habitat were twice as high as in the heath habitat. Of a total of 86 species, 31 occurred in sufficient numbers to categorize according to their habitat association (generalist, or heath or wood specialist) and their density at the ecotone (ecotone neutral, ecotone shy, or ecotone conspicuous). Three of these were habitat-generalist-ecotone-neutral. Fourteen species were ecotone neutral but were habitat specialists on either the wood (13 spp.) or the heath (1 sp.). Three species were ecotone shy. Although 11 species were ecotone conspicuous, they also occurred in either heath or wood or both. Thus, no species could be categorized as entirely ecotonal. We conclude that there is little evidence from this or other studies of avian communities to support an edge effect of increased density and species richness, and no evidence of entirely ecotonal species.