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Birds Slow To Respond To Climate Change, Surprising Study Finds

European breeding birds shift range at slower pace than expected, highlighting importance of local populations
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Birds are responding only slowly to climate change, reveals new research.

Scientists found that, over the last 30 years, European breeding birds have shifted their range by on average, 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year.

The study led by Durham University scientists, used information from surveys collected as part of two Europe-wide bird distribution atlases, published 30 years apart.

The team found that local colonization and extinction events across species ranges were only “weakly” influenced by the change in climate between the two survey periods.

Instead, they were more influenced by the climatic conditions at the time of the first surveys.

The researchers say that one of the key determinants of whether a new area was colonized, or whether a population went extinct, was the extent to which the area had other populations of a species close by.

This enabled colonizations and minimized extinctions, presumably by the dispersal of birds from neighboring areas.

They said their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, highlight the importance of maintaining networks of local populations to limit extinctions and to make populations more robust to the effects of climate change.

A stork flies over the sky near its’ nest at Valley of storks in Beysehir district of Konya, Turkiye on July 10, 2023. But those changes were “significantly” different from expectations based on changing climate and landcover during that period. Based on climate alone, the research team predicted that the average range shifts by species should have been around 50 percent faster. PHOTO BY MUSTAFA CIFTCI/GETTY IMAGES 

Study joint leader Professor Stephen Willis, of Durham University, said: “Our findings potentially show two intriguing responses to recent climate change.

“Such debts occur when species are committed to eventual extinction due to unfavorable climate, but they nonetheless manage to persist, sometimes for lengthy periods, because key limiting factors, such as their preferred habitat, take some time to alter.”

Joint first author, Dr. Christine Howard said: “The key role of non-climatic factors in altering range changes highlights that climate is just one factor impacting populations of European breeding birds.

“The role of factors such as persecution in limiting European birds highlights that such things are still a major problem for many species.

“However, the rapid recovery of some species from past persecution or poisoning provides hope that populations can often rebound once such impacts are controlled.”

Co-author, Dr. Sergi Herrando added: “The work presented here highlights the ways in which coordinated survey data, collected across many countries, can be used to better understand the causes of species losses and gains.

“The collection of data used in this study involved huge numbers of people.

“The second breeding atlas alone collated data from 120,000 field workers, permitting a systematic survey of 11 million square kilometers across 48 countries.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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