Environmental species sorting and dispersal are seen as key factors in community assembly, but their relative importance and scale dependence remain uncertain, as the extent to which communities are consistently assembled throughout their biomes. To address these issues, we analysed bird metacommunity structure in a 1200-km2 forested landscape (Istranca Forests) in Turkish Thrace at the margin of the Western Palaearctic (WP) temperate-forest biome. First, we used spatial regressions and Mantel tests to assess the relative importance of environmental and spatial factors as drivers of local species richness and composition within the metacommunity. Second, we analysed species' abundance–occupancy relationship across the metacommunity and used null models to assess whether occupancy is determined by species' environmental niches. Third, we used generalized linear models to test for links between species' metacommunity-wide occupancy and their broader WP regional populations and assessed whether these links are consistent with environmental species sorting. There was strong environmental control on local species richness and composition patterns within the metacommunity, but non-environmental spatial factors had also an important joint role. Null model analyses on randomized communities showed that species' occupancy across the metacommunity was strongly determined by species' environmental niches, with occupancy being related to niche position marginality. Species' metacommunity-wide occupancy correlated with their local abundance as well as with their range size and total abundance for the whole WP, suggesting that the same assembly mechanisms act consistently across local to regional scales. A species specialization index that was estimated by bird species' habitat use across France, incorporating both niche position and breadth, was significantly related to species' occupancy and abundance at both metacommunity and WP regional scales. Hence, the same niche-related assembly mechanisms appear to act consistently across the WP region. Overall, our results suggest that the structure of the Istranca Forest' bird metacommunity was predominantly controlled by environmental species sorting in a manner consistent with the broader WP region. However, variability in local community structure was also linked to purely spatial factors, albeit more weakly.
Journal of Animal Ecology, 2013, Vol 82, Issue 1, p. 266-274