Where ancient forests whisper the tales of time and rugged mountains reach for the skies, Spain’s landscapes are alive with a chorus of bird songs, painting audible brushstrokes of life’s vibrant mosaic. What guides these feathered denizens to their chosen corners of this diverse country? How do the winds, waters, and woods call to them, shaping their communities across the arid plains and lush valleys? Embarking on this narrative, we delve into the heart of Spain’s natural world to uncover the invisible threads that weave together the destinies of its bird populations. Through a journey of discovery, we explore the unseen forces of climate and habitat that dictate where birds flourish, unveiling the intricate dance between species and their environment.

In the stunning landscapes of Spain, transitioning from the verdant Eurosiberian north to the radiant Mediterranean south, a myriad of birds finds refuge. A recent study published in the journal Ecological Informatics, spearheaded by Dr. Javier Seoane of the Autonomous University of Madrid, in collaboration with Dr. Alba Estrada from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, and Dr. Mirkka Jones and Professor Otso Ovaskainen, both from the University of Helsinki, ventures into the heart of these vibrant ecosystems. This united team of researchers has taken on the ambitious task of intricately charting the ecological factors that govern the distribution of 191 terrestrial bird species across mainland Spain. Utilizing a sophisticated model, they describe the complex ecological niches that underpin Spain’s abundant bird diversity.

At the core of their exploration, the research team places a significant emphasis on the impact of climate on bird populations. The authors note that “Climate is the major driver of species distributions across mainland Spain at our study grain and scale, followed by terrain slope and land-cover.” This finding underscores the critical role of Spain’s diverse climatic zones in delineating where different bird species flourish, highlighting the broad environmental gradients that must be considered in biodiversity conservation efforts. Dr Seoane note that “ Species’ traits and environmental conditions are intertwined. For example, cold-dwelling species avoid warm Mediterranean conditions and favour pine and broadleaf forests, and sedentary and short-distant migrants are associated with non-seasonal evergreen woodlands.”

The methodology adopted by Dr. Seoane and his colleagues is as fascinating as their findings. Straying from the depths of scientific jargon, they employ a model that integrates various data layers, offering a comprehensive view of bird distributions. Dr. Seoane elaborates, “We build a hierarchical multi-species model that simultaneously accounts for spatial, phylogenetic, and trait-based dependencies.” This approach resembles piecing together a vast jigsaw puzzle, where each piece signifies data on bird species, their evolutionary histories, and unique characteristics, all set against the diverse environmental backdrop of mainland Spain.

Their meticulous analysis extends beyond simple locational data. It uncovers the ‘why’ behind bird distribution patterns, offering insights into the ecological mechanisms at play. Dr. Seoane highlights an intriguing discovery regarding habitats, “Species richness increases towards intermediate climatic conditions and with aquatic habitat cover and decreases with increasing forest and woody agricultural land cover.” This finding is pivotal for conservation, pointing to heterogeneous areas with a blend of water bodies and moderate climates as critical hotspots of bird diversity. Through their detailed examination, Dr. Seoane, and colleagues lay the groundwork for future research and conservation strategies, guided by a better understanding of the ecological and environmental determinants of bird life in Spain. Their study not only illuminates the current state of avian biodiversity but also offers a roadmap for navigating the challenges posed by climate change and habitat alteration to Spain’s feathered denizens.


Javier Seoane, Alba Estrada, Mirkka M. Jones, Otso Ovaskainen, A case study on joint species distribution modelling with bird atlas data: Revealing limits to species’ niches, Ecological Informatics, Vol 77, 2023.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoinf.2023.102202.


Dr. Javier Seoane is an associate professor of biology at Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. After a Ph-D on species distribution modelling before the rise of this subdiscipline, his current research interests are mainly in ecological biogeography and community ecology, with an interest in sampling, monitoring and conservation of biodiversity. He has published 56 scientific articles which have been cited >1300 times and has an h-index of 19.

Dr. Otso Ovaskainen is a professor in mathematical and statistical ecology at University of Jyväskylä, Finland. He has published 250 scientific articles and two monographs that have received >21,000 citations and h-index of 73. Ovaskainen leads the 12.6M€ ERC-synergy project LIFEPLAN that maps global biodiversity with sound (birds, bats, insects), image (mammals) and DNA (fungi and insects). The LIFEPLAN project also machine learning methods for species identification, and statistical joint species distribution models for data analysis. Ovaskainen’s group consists of ca. 30 post docs and PhD students who cover expertise in a broad spectrum of methods in biodiversity research, including observational and experimental methods for empirical research and mathematical and statistical modelling.

Dr. Alba Estrada is a postdoctoral researcher. Her research line lies on biogeography and macroecology and her main motivation is focused on conservation. Her interests include: the detection of changes in biodiversity patterns according to forecasted climate and land uses; the identification of life-history traits that could help species to cope with global change; and the incorporation of intraspecific variability of morphological and evolutionary values of different populations in order to understand their limitations under global change. She has experience in detecting the degree of overlapping between protected areas and important areas for biodiversity, and in the use of concepts of fuzzy logic in conservation biogeography. She has developed her academic career in 5 different research institutions in Spain and Portugal: University of Málaga, Institute for Game and Wildlife Research (IREC – CSIC), University of Évora (Portugal), University of Oviedo, and Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE – CSIC). During her research career, she has produced 48 scientific publications (by February 2024), being 32 of them included in the Science Citation Index (SCI). In addition, she has produced 6 scientific-technical reports. She has a h-index of 20, with 1162 citations (Google Scholar). The average impact factor of her SCI publications is 3.94. She has participated in 16 research projects. She has presented the results of her studies in 62 communications in national or international conferences. She is member of the organizing committee of two international and two national conferences. Since 2023 she is member of the Equality, Equity and Diversity Commission and of the Women and Science Group of the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (CSIC). She actively collaborates with researchers from Spain, Portugal, UK, Sweden, Germany, France, Finland and USA.

Dr. Mirkka Jones was until recently a researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Research Centre for Ecological Change. She now works in research services supporting top science at Aalto University, Finland. Her own research interests lie at the intersection of community ecology, biogeography and statistical modelling. Her PhD was in biodiversity research with a focus on Neotropical rainforests. She has published 28 scientific articles which have been cited >1100 times and has an h-index of 14.