Several Species Of Alaskan Birds Vulnerable To Changing Climate
April 3, 2013

Winners And Losers: Study Looks At Alaskan Birds’ Vulnerability To Climate Change

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As the forces of climate change continue to shape the planet, conservationist groups are focusing on how these trends may affect the viability of different animal species.

According to a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), many of the breeding bird species in Alaska will experience a marked change to their populations by 2050.

Based on their assessment, the WCS estimates that two species will become "highly" vulnerable and seven other species would be "moderately" vulnerable thanks to the effects of climate change. The WCS also projects that the populations of five bird species will actually expand as a result of rising global temperatures and their effects.

"The primary value of this assessment is to tease out the underlying factors that make species more or less vulnerable to climate change," said report co-author Joe Liebezeit. "Through this effort we can begin to prioritize subsequent management actions and identify data gaps. The results represent a starting point to help prioritize management actions and conservation planning efforts."

The report is focused on 54 bird species from Arctic Alaska, which serves as a breeding ground for millions of birds from around the world. According to the WCS, the region is expected to see a 5.5-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2050.

The WCS conducted their assessment with four goals in mind: rank the vulnerability of different bird species, evaluate each species´ sensitivity to climate change factors, compare the assessment to other approaches, and determine the effectiveness of the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) tool.

The CCVI tool is a spreadsheet-based algorithm that uses a variety of factors to rank species vulnerability to climate change in particular regions.

"This assessment tool melds computer modeling with expert opinion in a way not often realized," said co-author Greg Balogh, the Coordinator of the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative for the WCS.

"The insights and graphic depictions of climate change winners and losers is a real eye-opener. Land and resource managers would do well to pay attention to products like this as they think about how they conduct business in the future."

On average, the more vulnerable species are more closely associated with the Alaskan coast, making them more susceptible to climate-related coastal factors such as increased frequency of violent storms, erosion and ice cover. More adaptable species were less affected, and some species were actually predicted by the WCS study to thrive in a warming climate.

The WCS emphasized that the study only covers the breeding birds in relation to the time they spend in Alaska. They added that further research is necessary to be able to tell a more complete story that would include other factors such as the birds´ migratory patterns.

"Our results tell only part of the climate change story for these species," warned WCS conservation scientist and report co-author Erika Rowland. "For example, several species rely on wetland habitats, which may dry out or shift locations in response to warming.”

“Also, many species winter in places outside of Alaska and so climate change information from other regions will ultimately need to be woven into our understanding of vulnerability in Arctic Alaska for conservation planning and management,” she said.