Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Organismal Biology and Ecology

Department or School/College

Division of Biological Sciences

Committee Chair

Richard L. Hutto

Commitee Members

Creagh Breuner, Lisa Eby, Erick Greene, Donald Jenni


organismal biology


University of Montana


Riparian systems are important for breeding bird communities and are highly used as migratory corridors; however, their importance for wintering birds has not been assessed systematically. In order to assess the value of riparian areas for birds wintering in Sonora, data from 1,816 standard point counts were collected from 87 locations during January and February 2004-2006. A total of 253 species were detected across 14 vegetation types, including nine categories of riparian vegetation. The mean number of species and individuals detected per count was significantly higher in riparian vegetation than in non-riparian vegetation for migratory species, but not for residents. Riparian bird communities are different from those in non-riparian habitats, and contribute 22% of the regional avifauna's species.
Anthropogenic disturbance has imposed significant changes in riparian habitats, and is known to have negative effects on biological communities. To assess the effects of human induced disturbance on wintering bird communities, I recorded community composition, relative abundance of species, and three indicators of bird condition in relatively undisturbed and highly disturbed sites at three river systems in Sonora. There is, in general, little effect of disturbance on the composition of wintering communities, with less than 20% of the most common species having significant differences in their abundances between relatively undisturbed and highly disturbed sites. Condition indicators were similar in the two disturbance levels, but the mean heterophil/lymphocyte ratio in the blood of sampled birds showed increased levels of physiological stress in disturbed sites. A more experimental approach is needed to determine the specific cause of the stress expression in leucocytes.
Modification of natural flooding regimes has modified riparian areas, as has been the case in the Colorado River Delta. I present a summary of the changes experienced by riparian systems and some of the measures implemented for riparian restoration in the southwestern United States, and then I compare the scenario with that in central Sonora, where some of the same stressors exist on riparian systems, but where traditional management practices have also mitigated some of the negative consequences of flow control along mid-sized river systems.



© Copyright 2007 Jose Fernando Villasenor