Abundance and habitat relationships of breeding birds in the Sky Islands and adjacent Sierra Madre Occidental of northwest Mexico
The Sierra Madre Occidental and neighboring Madrean Sky Islands span a large and biologically diverse region of northwest Mexico and portions of the southwestern United States. Little is known about the abundance and habitat use of breeding birds in this region of Mexico, but such information is important for guiding conservation and management. We assessed densities and habitat relationships of breeding birds across Sky Island mountain ranges in Mexico and adjacent portions of the Sierra Madre from 2009 to 2012. We estimated densities at multiple spatial scales, assessed variation in densities among all major montane vegetation communities, and identified and estimated the effects of important habitat attributes on local densities. Regional density estimates of 65% of 72 focal species varied significantly among eight montane vegetation communities that ranged from oak savannah and woodland at low elevations to pine and mixed-conifer forest at high elevations. Greater proportions of species occurred at peak densities or were relatively restricted to mixed- conifer forest and montane riparian vegetation likely because of higher levels of structural or floristic diversity in those communities, but those species were typically rare or uncommon in the Sky Islands. Fewer species had peak densities in oak and pine-oak woodland, and species associated with those communities were often more abundant across the region. Habitat models often included the effects of broadleaf deciduous vegetation cover (30% of species), which, together with tree density and fire severity, had positive effects on densities and suggest ways for managers to augment and conserve populations. Such patterns combined with greater threats to high- elevation conifer forest and riparian areas underscore their value for conservation. Significant populations of many breeding bird species, including some that are of concern or were not known to occur regionally or in mountain ranges we surveyed, highlight the importance of conservation efforts in this area of Mexico.