Conservation status of North American birds in the face of future climate change

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Langham, Gary M., Schuetz, Justin G., Distler, Trisha, Soykan, Candan U. and Wilsey, Chad
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Human-induced climate change is increasingly recognized as a fundamental driver of biological processes and patterns. Historic climate change is known to have caused shifts in the geographic ranges of many taxa and future climate change is expected to result in even greater redistributions of species. As a result, predicting the impact of climate change on future patterns of biodiversity will greatly aid conservation planning. Using the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Audubon Christmas Bird Count, two of the most comprehensive continental datasets of vertebrates in the world, and correlative distribution modeling, we assessed geographic range shifts for 588 North American bird species during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons under a range of future emission scenarios (SRES A2, A1B, B2) through the end of the century. Here we show that 314 species (53%) are projected to lose more than half of their current geographic range across three scenarios of climate change through the end of the century. For 126 species, loss occurs without concomitant range expansion; whereas for 188 species, loss is coupled with potential to colonize new replacement range. We found no strong associations between projected climate sensitivities and existing conservation prioritizations. Moreover, species responses were not clearly associated with habitat affinities, migration strategies, or climate change scenarios. Our results demonstrate the need to include climate sensitivity into current conservation planning and to develop adaptive management strategies that accommodate shrinking and shifting geographic ranges. The persistence of many North American birds will depend on their ability to colonize climatically suitable areas outside of current ranges and management actions that target climate adaptation.


Langham, Gary M., Justin G. Schuetz, Trisha Distler, Candan U. Soykan, and Chad Wilsey. 2015. “Conservation Status of North American Birds in the Face of Future Climate Change.” PLoS ONE 10 (9): e0135350. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135350.