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Effect of data source on estimates of regional bird richness in northeastern United States


Ankori-Karlinsky, Roi et al. (2021), Effect of data source on estimates of regional bird richness in northeastern United States, Dryad, Dataset,


Standardized data on large-scale and long-term patterns of species richness are critical for understanding the consequences of natural and anthropogenic changes in the environment.  The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is one of the largest and most widely used sources of such data, but so far, little is known about the degree to which BBS data provide accurate estimates of regional richness. Here we test this question by comparing estimates of regional richness based on BBS data with spatially and temporally matched estimates based on state Breeding Bird Atlases (BBA). We expected that estimates based on BBA data would provide a more complete (and therefore, more accurate) representation of regional richness due to their larger number of observation units and higher sampling effort within the observation units. Our results were only partially consistent with these predictions: while estimates of regional richness based on BBA data were higher than those based on BBS data, estimates of local richness (number of species per observation unit) were higher in BBS data. The latter result is attributed to higher land-cover heterogeneity in BBS units and higher effectiveness of bird detection (more species are detected per unit time). Interestingly, estimates of regional richness based on BBA blocks were higher than those based on BBS data even when differences in the number of observation units were controlled for. Our analysis indicates that this difference was due to higher compositional turnover between BBA units, probably due to larger differences in habitat conditions between BBA units and a larger number of geographically restricted species. Our overall results indicate that estimates of regional richness based on BBS data suffer from incomplete detection of a large number of rare species, and that corrections of these estimates based on standard extrapolation techniques are not sufficient to remove this bias. Future applications of BBS data in ecology and conservation, and in particular, applications in which the representation of rare species is important (e.g., those focusing on biodiversity conservation), should be aware of this bias, and should integrate BBA data whenever possible.



This is a compilation of second-generation breeding bird atlas data and corresponding breeding bird survey data. This contains presence-absence breeding bird observations in 5 U.S. states: MA, MI, NY, PA, VT, sampling effort per sampling unit, geographic location of sampling units, and environmental variables per sampling unit: elevation and elevation range from (from SRTM), mean annual precipitation & mean summer temperature (from PRISM), and NLCD 2006 land-use data.

Each row contains all observations per sampling unit, with additional tables containing information on sampling effort impact on richness, a rareness table of species per dataset, and two summary tables for both bird diversity and environmental variables. 

The methods for compilation are contained in the supplementary information of the manuscript but also here:

Bird data

For BBA data, shapefiles for blocks and the data on species presences and sampling effort in blocks were received from the atlas coordinators. For BBS data, shapefiles for routes and raw species data were obtained from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center ( and

Using ArcGIS Pro© 10.0, species observations were joined to respective BBS and BBA observation units shapefiles using the Join Table tool. For both BBA and BBS, a species was coded as either present (1) or absent (0). Presence in a sampling unit was based on codes 2, 3, or 4 in the original volunteer birding checklist codes (possible breeder, probable breeder, and confirmed breeder, respectively), and absence was based on codes 0 or 1 (not observed and observed but not likely breeding). Spelling inconsistencies of species names between BBA and BBS datasets were fixed. Species that needed spelling fixes included Brewer’s Blackbird, Cooper’s Hawk, Henslow’s Sparrow, Kirtland’s Warbler, LeConte’s Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swainson’s Thrush, Wilson’s Snipe, and Wilson’s Warbler. In addition, naming conventions were matched between BBS and BBA data. The Alder and Willow Flycatchers were lumped into Traill’s Flycatcher and regional races were lumped into a single species column: Dark-eyed Junco regional types were lumped together into one Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-shafted Flicker was lumped into Northern Flicker, Saltmarsh Sparrow and the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow were lumped into Saltmarsh Sparrow, and the Yellow-rumped Myrtle Warbler was lumped into Myrtle Warbler (currently named Yellow-rumped Warbler). Three hybrid species were removed: Brewster's and Lawrence's Warblers and the Mallard x Black Duck hybrid. Established “exotic” species were included in the analysis since we were concerned only with detection of richness and not of specific species.

The resultant species tables with sampling effort were pivoted horizontally so that every row was a sampling unit and each species observation was a column. This was done for each state using R version 3.6.2 (R© 2019, The R Foundation for Statistical Computing Platform) and all state tables were merged to yield one BBA and one BBS dataset. Following the joining of environmental variables to these datasets (see below), BBS and BBA data were joined using in R© to yield a final dataset with all species observations and environmental variables for each observation unit. 

Environmental data

Using ArcGIS Pro© 10.0, all environmental raster layers, BBA and BBS shapefiles, and the species observations were integrated in a common coordinate system (North_America Equidistant_Conic) using the Project tool. For BBS routes, 400m buffers were drawn around each route using the Buffer tool. The observation unit shapefiles for all states were merged (separately for BBA blocks and BBS routes and 400m buffers) using the Merge tool to create a study-wide shapefile for each data source. Whether or not a BBA block was adjacent to a BBS route was determined using the Intersect tool based on a radius of 30m around the route buffer (to fit the NLCD map resolution). Area and length of the BBS route inside the proximate BBA block were also calculated. Mean values for annual precipitation and summer temperature, and mean and range for elevation, were extracted for every BBA block and 400m buffer BBS route using Zonal Statistics as Table tool. The area of each land-cover type in each observation unit (BBA block and BBS buffer) was calculated from the NLCD layer using the Zonal Histogram tool.