Birds expected to adapt well to climate change show ‘substantial’ advantage

Photo:  A Wren's birdsong is captured by field sound recordist Geoff Sample for the launch of #RealTweetWeek. Picture by: David Parry / PA Archive/Press Association Images.
Photo: A Wren’s birdsong is captured by field sound recordist Geoff Sample for the launch of #RealTweetWeek. Picture by: David Parry / PA Archive/Press Association Images.

Birds that were expected to do well due to climate change have outperformed other species in the past 30 years, a study of wildlife in Europe and the US has found.

Scientists said they have shown that common bird populations thousands of miles apart are responding to changing weather in a similar, pronounced way.

The international team, led by Durham University, found that birds they thought would be suited to the changing conditions “substantially” outperformed those expected to suffer between 1980 and 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey, is published in the journal Science.

They studied 145 common European birds and 380 American birds, having split them into groups of ones they thought would prosper through climate change and ones that would struggle.

They found a clear difference in the average population trends of bird species either advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change in both continents.

Populations of bee-eater and Cetti’s warbler – species with a southerly distribution in Europe – have increased in recent years, while more northerly distributed species such as willow tit and brambling have been declining in the same period.

Trends have also been noted within the same species. Wrens, for example, have been increasing in northern European areas where winters have been milder, but declining in some sourthern countries with hotter, drier summers.

The UK’s population of the Dartford warbler, which used to be limited to Dorset, has increased eight-fold since the early 1980s, while declining in Spain.

The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas.

The study’s lead authors Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Dr Stephens said: “If there was no impact of climate change, you would expect the average population trend of species in the two groups to be the same, but the differences expose the fact that recent climate change has already favoured one set of species over another.”

Dr Willis said: “These findings represent a new climate impact indicator for biodiversity. The same approach could also be applied to species such as bees, butterflies and dragonflies, which are well monitored and highly susceptible to changes in climate.”

Comments are closed.