Elevation gradient studies have strengthened the evaluation of changes in richness and composition of bird assemblages. They also provide information on environmental variables that determine bird distribution, and the variables that define their population structure. Our aim was to describe their variation through an elevational cline in Southern Nayarit, Mexico. To analyze the behavior of richness across the gradient, we gathered information through point counts in nine elevational intervals (300 m from each other) from sea level to 2 700 m of elevation. With a standardized sampling effort, we produced rarefaction curves and analyzed changes in species composition by hierarchical classification using the TWINSPAN technique. In order to identify variables associated with richness changes, we examined the effect of precipitation and habitat structure via regression trees. An analysis of nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) was implemented with the purpose to determine if the changes in composition correspond to changes in vegetation types. Species richness varied significantly across the gradient: high in the lower parts of the gradient, reached its peak in the middle, and decreased monotonically with elevation. Species responded to changes in the cline and were grouped in three elevational zones. Analyses suggest that changes in richness and species composition are influenced by vegetation, its structure and precipitation regime, as well as various aspects related to habitat features and disturbance. These aspects should be taken into account in order to design appropriate strategies for the conservation of the birds of Nayarit.
Keywords: Distribution patterns, altitudinal gradients, bird communities, species richness, endemic species.