The Earth’s climate is changing, from the North Pole to the peaks of the Andes, average temperatures are rising steadily, glaciers are melting, coasts are been eroded at a rate never seen before. How will these changes affect bird species?
Glaciers are retreating worldwide © Jeff Huffman
Changes in Distribution and Range
We know that some plant species are experiencing changes in their latitudinal and altitudinal distribution in response to increased average temperatures worldwide. But these changes in the climate affect not only the distribution maps of many species of plants, but they also produce changes in their phenology, i.e., in periods of flowering and fruiting. There is evidence that these changes in distribution and phenology of plants directly affect nesting periods, distribution, migration times and feeding of many species of birds (2).
Some studies indicate that 400 of the 8,750 bird species studied may lose more than half of their range by 2050 due to climate change. This figure could grow to between 900 and 1800 species by 2100 and these changes would primarily affect birds that have restricted ranges in the tropics (3).
A study from the United States using data from the past 40 years showed that 60% of the 305 species of birds that winter in that country have changed their ranges, moving on average 35 miles to the north.
The Neotropical Region
There are fewer studies on how climate change will specifically impact birds in the Neotropical region. However there are some model-based studies that allow us to get an idea about the future of the birds of our region.
For example, research based on climate change models related to the savannas of the Cerrado in Brazil predict significant changes in the distribution of bird species up to 390 km to the southeast of the country. These changes in distribution could result in the extinction of some species of birds due to the fact that the new area of habitation for the birds is urbanized or is used for intensive agriculture, thus leaving the birds with less habitat (4).
White-bellied Cinclodes, an endangered bird that inhabit the highlands of the PeruvianAndes © Richard Gibbons
Another study using models on the distribution of 49 species of Manakins predicts that at least 20% of these species could become extinct if climate change continues and at least half of them could lose about 80% of their current distribution (1).
On the Peruvian coast, changes in ocean currents associated with the El Niño phenomenon, have a devastating effect on populations of seabirds. During the El Niño of 1997, approximately 70% of the population of Humboldt Penguins was lost. But more troubling is the situation of the Galapagos Penguin where populations of these endangered penguins have dropped by half since early 1970. During El Niño, adult penguins failed to reproduce in response to changes in the amount of fish that are part of their diet. It is expected that due to the effects of climate change, El Niño events will be more frequent in the future, further reducing these small populations of restricted Galapagos penguins and threatening them with extinction.
Galapagos Penguin © Kerry Lannert
Another species vulnerable to climate change is the critically endangered Pale-headed Brush-finch, rediscovered in 1998. Its habitat consists of a small shrub zone south of the Ecuadorian Andes. However, the small area where they live is going through changes in vegetation and therefore has initiated a management program preventing forest growths. Without human intervention, probably would not be available habitat for this bird.
You can make a difference. Here you will find some tips to combat the impact of climate change on birds.
Need more information? For more information, please check out Partners in Flight, a site which has an extensive bibliography on birds and climate change.
- Anciães M. and A. Townsend Peterson (2006) Climate change effects on neotropical manakin diversity based on ecological niche modeling. The Condor 108(4): 778-791.
- Humphrey Q. P. Crick (2004) The impact of climate change on birds. Ibis Vol. 146 s1: 48-56
- Jetz W, Wilcove DS, Dobson AP, (2007) Projected Impacts of Climate and Land-Use Change on the Global Diversity of Birds. PLoS Biol 5(6): e157. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050157
- Marini MA, Barbet-Massin M, Lopes LE, Jiguet F. (2009) Predicted Climate-Driven Bird Distribution Changes and Forecasted Conservation Conflicts in a Neotropical Savanna. Conservation Biology
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