Aim: Although the breeding ranges of most Western Palaearctic migratory passerines are well documented in Europe, their overwintering ranges and patterns of species richness in Africa remain poorly understood. To illustrate potential patterns of species richness despite severely limited data, we extrapolated species ranges from a new and unique data bank of locality records that documents overwintering locations of these birds in Africa. Location: Sub-Saharan Africa. Methods: We predicted potential geographical distributions of 60 species of passerine birds based on overwintering records using bioclimatic models. We then combined these predictions to estimate potential species richness and explored response shapes using spatial linear regression. We also evaluated the evidence for a mid-domain effect using a one-dimensional null model. Results: Spatial linear regression analyses of the species richness pattern revealed non-linear relationships to seasonality in precipitation, minimum net primary productivity, minimum average temperature, habitat heterogeneity, percentage of tree cover, distance from the Sahara Desert and inter-annual variability in net primary productivity. The explanatory power of these variables decreased with geographic range size. The one-dimensional null model of species richness based on distance from the Sahara Desert did not show evidence of a mid-domain effect. Main conclusions: Distributions of migrants seem generally strongly determined by distance from the Sahara Desert working in concert with climatic effects, but this cannot adequately explain richness patterns of species with small ranges in Africa, many of which are of substantial conservation concern.
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