February 6, 2013
Better Conservation Needed To Help Birds Weather Climate Change
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Many bird species are likely to suffer from future climate change, a new study led by Durham University and BirdLife International reveals. These species will require enhanced protection for important sites, and better management of the wider countryside. In extreme cases, they may need to be physically moved to areas that are climatically suitable to help them survive.
Stronger protection and effective management of the networks of important conservation sites are a priority the researchers say. These sites currently support priority species and could offer new habitat for other species forced to shift their distribution in the future.
The findings of this study were recently published in the journal Global Change Biology.
The study examined the potential distributions of suitable climate within conservation sites for 370 Asian bird species across the Eastern Himalaya and Lower Mekong regions. Specifically, they looked at sites in the countries of Bhutan, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as parts of Nepal and India. The species at these sites are of concern to conservationists. The findings, according to the researchers, highlight how climate change could affect both bird life and conservation policies globally. The adaptation of site management and facilitating the movement of threatened species to more suitable areas will be critical concerns to future conservation efforts.
Of the 370 species studied, projections reveal that between 45 and 88 percent will experience declines in suitable climate, leading to a change in the species composition at individual sites.
Almost 500 scenarios of each bird species' response to future climate change was considered by the research team, showing that despite uncertainty in future climate projections it is extremely likely that changes in these bird communities will occur. Suitable climate for all species in the future, however, is likely to remain in the network of sites as a whole. This illustrates the need for strengthening and adapting current conservation efforts.
Dr Robert Bagchi, a Research Fellow at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, conducted the analysis while at Durham University. He said, "It is striking that despite big differences among these scenarios, they agree on the final outcome. Even under the least extreme scenarios of climate change, most species we examined will have to shift their ranges in order to find suitable areas in the future."
Dr Stephen Willis, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University, commented, "As climate changes, we may have to assist birds to move to more suitable locations to help them survive. Although many birds will adjust their distributions, and will find new habitats with suitable climate, we need to manage the countryside to help them disperse, or even relocate birds in the most extreme cases. We expect there to be 24 times as many 'losers' as 'winners' in terms of bird species losing or gaining habitat in the future."
Climate change impacts on birds in the biodiversity hotspots of the Eastern Himalaya and the Lower Mekong were explored, then the team forecasted the likelihood of the Important Bird Area (IBA) network to maintain suitable climate for the species in question.
Dr Stuart Butchart, Head of Science at BirdLife International, stated, "Overall, while these important sites will continue to sustain bird species of conservation concern, climate change will modify which species each site will be suitable for."
"We therefore need to adapt our conservation management. The good news, however, is that protecting natural habitats benefits people too, helping communities to adapt to climate change. Healthy ecosystems enhance resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change and reduce the vulnerability of people."
The IBA's in the Lower Mekong region were more negatively affected than those in the Eastern Himalaya. Significant turnover of bird species - the rate of birds newly colonizing or becoming locally extinct — will be experienced in many parts of these regions over time.