Climate change

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Climate is changing on breeding & wintering grounds

Global climate change now permeates every aspect of our lives, and scientists are scrambling to understand how it will impact species ranges, migratory pathways, and phenology.

  • In North America, some bird species have moved their ranges northward as much as 13 km/year!

Climate is affected differently across the globe, and migratory animals may be at risk across multiple locations and seasons throughout the annual cycle.

  • Many tropical areas are experiencing severe declines in precipitation
  • Temperate regions are experiencing extreme temperatures increases

Seasonal interactions

Carry-over effects between seasons complicate the matter and scientists must consider climatic changes throughout the yearly cycle. Individuals may be even less resilient to climate change on the breeding grounds because of constraints imposed during the winter season.

  • Poor reproductive effort may be a result of climate on the wintering ground, independent of warming temperatures on breeding areas
  • Winter precipitation in the tropics can influence subsequent condition and reproductive output in songbirds

It is crucial to investigate climate change impacts throughout the entire annual cycle using the same individuals or linked populations. Otherwise, we cannot hope to understand species vulnerability and how they might respond to environmental changes.

We need to act now . . . but

Federal agencies and non-governmental groups are prioritizing and developing management plans for species (e.g., USFWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives), but they do not have complete life cycle information. These organizations need advice on habitat acquisition, recovery plans, and habitat corridors. Migratory connectivity can help determine:

  1. Which species are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change
  2. At what stage of the annual cycle they are most affected
  3. The predicted climate and habitat changes for linked populations

Scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of this complex question of how animals will respond to climate change. Many species are already responding, and there are numerous hypotheses predicting future changes.

  • Advanced breeding seasons due to mild winters and early springs resulting in differential reproductive success
  • Differential breeding success due to changing ecosystem dynamics, which may affect complex interspecific interactions
  • Shift in species distributions and migration pathways

The challenge

Unfortunately, migratory connectivity data are not available for most species, even those of conservation concern (Van Pol et al. 2010). This research is a tremendous undertaking, however, the grave climatic and environmental changes that we now face call for a far greater effort than has ever been launched in the past.


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