Surprising Findings on European Breeding Birds and Their Response to Climate Change

by Mateo Gonzalez
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European breeding birds

A recent study conducted by Durham University challenges the conventional understanding of European breeding birds’ response to climate change. Over a span of 30 years, these birds have shifted their range by an average of 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year. However, the study reveals that climate change alone does not account for this shift. Instead, initial climatic conditions and local population networks have played a significant role. These findings emphasize the importance of safeguarding local populations to enhance species resilience.

Contrary to expectations based on changing climate and land cover, the researchers found that climate-related factors only marginally influenced local colonization and extinction events across species ranges over the two survey periods. Surprisingly, these events were more strongly influenced by the climatic conditions present during the initial surveys.

The proximity of other populations of the same species emerged as a crucial determinant of whether a new area was colonized or a population went extinct. Close proximity facilitated colonizations and minimized extinctions, likely due to the dispersal of birds from neighboring regions.

This insight highlights the critical role of preserving networks of local populations in mitigating extinctions and strengthening population resilience against the impacts of climate change. The study’s findings will be published today (July 20) in the journal Nature Communications.

Professor Stephen Willis, one of the study leads from Durham University’s Department of Biosciences, expressed intrigue at the two intriguing responses observed in relation to recent climate change. In some areas, species may be unable to track improving climate due to “colonization lags,” potentially caused by the unavailability of suitable habitat or prey in new sites. On the other hand, fewer extinctions occurring in predicted areas might indicate the existence of “extinction debts.” These debts occur when species are committed to eventual extinction due to unfavorable climate conditions but manage to persist for a while due to key limiting factors taking time to change, such as preferred habitats.

The study also emphasizes that climate is just one factor influencing European breeding bird populations, and non-climatic factors play a significant role in altering range changes. The role of factors such as persecution is still a major problem for many species, but the rapid recovery of some species from past persecution or poisoning provides hope that populations can rebound once such impacts are controlled.

Dr. Christine Howard, joint first-author of the study, emphasized the crucial role of coordinated survey data collected across multiple countries in understanding the causes of species losses and gains. The study utilized data from two bird distribution atlases published 30 years apart, involving a vast number of field workers and surveying a vast area across 48 countries.

The research was partially funded by the National Environment Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about European breeding birds, climate change response

What did the recent study by Durham University reveal about European breeding birds’ response to climate change?

The recent study by Durham University revealed that European breeding birds have shifted their range by an average of 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) per year over a span of 30 years. However, this range shift was not solely attributed to climate change. The study highlighted that initial climatic conditions and local population networks played a critical role in the birds’ response.

More about European breeding birds, climate change response

  • Durham University Study: [Link to the study](insert URL here)
  • Nature Communications Journal: [Link to the journal](insert URL here)
  • National Environment Research Council: [Link to NERC](insert URL here)
  • UK Research and Innovation: [Link to UKRI](insert URL here)

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