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Climate Change Already Affecting Europe’s Birds

March 4, 2009

British scientists are saying that climate change is already having an impact on European bird species, BBC News reported.

The researchers wrote in the journal PloS ONE that some birds are expected to do well as temperatures rise, but those are in the minority.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which contributed to the study, said the trend is headed towards net loss.

Birds that are expected to do well as temperatures rise have indeed increased in number since the 1980s, the researchers found. However, some 75 percent of those species studied at the time had declined within the same period.

Researchers compared the population changes of bird species over the last two decades with the projected change in their ranges and discovered a strong link indicating the shifts in species territory are likely associated with climate change.

The study included 122 species and found that 30 of those are projected to increase their range, while the remaining 92 species are anticipated to experience a contraction in their territory.

“The impact of climatic changes, both positive and negative, can now be summarized in a single indicator which we’ve called the Climatic Impact Indicator,” said Dr. Stephen Willis of Durham University, who co-authored the study.

The measure describes how changes in temperature are affecting species.

“Those birds we predict should fare well under climate change have been increasing since the mid-80s, and those we predict should do badly have declined over the same period. The worry is that the declining group actually consists of 75 per cent of the species we studied,” Willis said.

He said rising temperatures are likely to have a positive effect on some species, meaning some birds are likely to extend their ranges north.

The RSPB warned that one UK species, the Scottish crossbill, could face extinction, as its range is already restricted to the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland.

“We need to redouble our efforts,” said the RSPB spokesman, “for a G8 nation to lose a species is shameful.”

He added that preserving pine forests could be crucial to the survival of the crossbill.

“We hear a lot about climate change, but our paper shows that its effects are being felt right now,” said the RSPB’s Dr. Richard Gregory.

“Although we have only had a very small actual rise in global average temperature, it is staggering to realize how much change we are noticing in wildlife populations. If we don’t take our foot off the gas now, our indicator shows there will be many much worse effects to come.”

He suggested nations must keep global temperature rise below the two-degree ceiling because anything above that would likely create global havoc.

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