Variety is the Spice of Desert Bird Life: Foundation Plant Species Provide Habitat Heterogeneity for Bird Communities in the Mojave Desert
Owen, Malory Blake
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Plants provide habitat and resources to the desert animal community. However, these interactions are species specific and can depend on season. I tested the hypothesis that birds use different foundation species in deserts as microhabitat, and birds shift associations by flowering and fruiting life-stages. I used line transects to record habitat associations of birds at a protected site in the Mojave Desert. I found that the bird biodiversity and behaviour were not equally represented across all microhabitats or season. Diversity of birds and territorial behaviors were significantly greater at shrubs microhabitats in spring. Shrubs likely primarily provided structural heterogeneity for the avian community to use as perches, nests, and other non-trophic services because foraging and consumption were observed less often. Bird biodiversity was greater at cacti than at open summer microhabitats, which supported the least bird biodiversity. Non-trophic interactions with plants are important for maintaining local bird diversity in deserts.