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Rohwer S, Grason EW, Navarro-Sigüenza AG. (2015) Irrigation and avifaunal change in Coastal Northwest Mexico: Has irrigated habit attracted threatened migratory species?PeerJ PrePrints3:e1456https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.1194v1
Irrigation in desert ecosystems can either reduce or increase species diversity. Groundwater pumping often lowers water tables and reduces natural wetlands, while canal irrigation often creates mesic habitat, resulting in great increases in avian diversity from irrigation. Here we use remotely-sensed data sets to show that 60% of the land in the coastal plain of southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa lying below 200m elevation has been converted by irrigation to more mesic habitats. We then use the record of bird specimens in the world’s museums from this same region of Mexico to examine the avian community before and after the development of extensive irrigation. In general these museum records show an increase in the abundance and diversity of breeding birds associated with mesic habitats. Although thorn forest birds have likely decreased in total numbers, most are common enough in the remaining thorn forest that collection records did not indicate their probable decline. Four migrants having most of their breeding ranges in the U.S. or Canada, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cliff Swallow, Bell’s Vireo, and Orchard Oriole, apparently have increased dramatically as breeders in irrigated habitats of NW Mexico. Because these species have decreased or even largely disappeared as breeding birds in parts of the U.S. or Canada, further research should assess whether their increases in new mesic habitats of NW Mexico are linked to their declines as breeding birds in Canada and the U.S. For Bell’s Vireo recent specimens from Sinaloa suggest its new breeding population in NW Mexico may be composed partly of the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo.
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