Threat of Climate Change to Songbird Breeding Population

Research Issue

[photo:] Adult Acadian flycatcher on nest.

Much of the research taking place on the effects of climate change on wildlife is focused on habitat, and frequently on habitat used by species that are already imperiled. If wildlife managers are going to successfully navigate the conservation challenges they face today and into the next century, they will need to understand the mechanisms by which climate affects breeding, interspecies interactions, and other demographic processes for common and imperiled birds

Our Research

A research team looked at a common forest songbird in the 93-million-acre Central Hardwood Region, the Acadian flycatcher, and predicted declines in its abundance over the next century due to the effects of a warming climate on its reproductive success.

[photo:] Adult Acadian flycatcher feeding nestlings.Researchers used a two-step process to overcome the challenges of scaling up from individual to population-level impacts of climate change on Acadian flycatchers through the year 2100. In the first step, they used empirically derived estimates of effects of climate on nest survival and productivity within an individual-based model to estimate reproduction of individual birds throughout the region under three climate change forecasts through year 2100. They accounted for individual behaviors, such as renesting, that might inadvertently mitigate the impacts on overall productivity. Researchers then integrated those productivity estimates into dynamic-landscape metapopulation models that allowed them to project population growth while accounting for uncertainty in adult and juvenile survival by considering a range of rates.

Expected Outcomes

These results highlight the importance of considering both direct and indirect effects of climate change on multiple aspects of species demography, and not just habitat, when assessing the vulnerability of wildlife species.

Research Results

Warming temperatures under a worst-case scenario with unabated climate change could significantly reduce breeding productivity of the Acadian flycatcher, resulting in this currently common species being at risk of quasi-extinction from the region in the twenty-first century.

Bonnot, Thomas W.; Cox, W. Andrew; Thompson, Frank R.; Millspaugh, Joshua J. 2018. Threat of climate change on a songbird population through its impacts on breeding. Nature Climate Change. 4: 1048-.

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  • Last modified: July 23, 2018