Mapping avian distributions: The evolution of bird atlases

David W. Gibbons, Paul F. Donald, Hans Günther Bauer, Lorenzo Fornasari, Ian K. Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Capsule: An increasing proportion of atlases now map patterns of abundance but they are still a minority even though they require no more input of time or fieldworkers. Aims: To examine quantitatively the evolution of bird atlas methods, from their inception to the present day, to document the most frequently used methods and to quantify temporal changes in them, and so identify broad patterns that might be of use in the planning and interpretation of future atlases. Methods: A database of over 400 atlases was compiled, and a number of variables extracted from each. Temporal trends within, and relationships between, these variables were analysed. Results: Atlases have become significantly reduced in scale over time, covering smaller areas in shorter periods of fieldwork, but at higher spatial resolutions and with increasing numbers of observers per unit area. The number of participating fieldworkers and the size of the region being covered together explain over 70% of variation between atlases in spatial resolution. The number of atlases that have mapped abundance or relative abundance, rather than simply occurrence (presence/absence) or breeding status, has increased significantly over time but remains relatively small. However, such atlases were no more expensive in terms of length of the fieldwork or preparation periods or the number of observers deployed per unit area. There is evidence of a sharp decline in the number of new bird atlases being initiated. Conclusions: There have been significant changes in the way atlas surveys are undertaken, but no standardized method has evolved. This leads to flexibility that allows atlas surveys to be undertaken over areas varying by six orders of magnitude using numbers of observers that vary by five orders of magnitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-334
Number of pages11
JournalBird Study
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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