Our birdlife is worst affected by climate change


Wind turbine farm in action on the coastline
Wind turbine farm in action on the coastline

The rate at which our climate is warming has been found to be the best explanation for bird population declines, new research reveals.

Our warming planet has been found to be a critical factor in explaining the decline of bird and mammal species, reveals new research published in Global Change Biology by international conservation charity ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology.

Birds are said to be one of the worst affected by rapid climate warming, with effects being twice as strong in birds over mammals, as well as populations located outside of protected areas being more severely impacted. Species such as the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) in Germany and Senegal, pink-footed Geese in Canada (Anser brachyrhynchus) and black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) in Tanzania are just some of the species highlighted to be in population decline.

Lead-author, Fiona Spooner from the Institute of Zoology and UCL’s Centre of Biodiversity and Environment Research says: “The reason we think birds might be worse off in particular is due to birds breeding seasons being particularly sensitive to temperature changes. We think this could be leading to a desynchronisation of their reproduction cycle, leading to the negative impacts we’re seeing. Mammal breeding seasons are a lot more flexible, and this is reflected in the data.”

This finding is crucial, because if the rate at which the climate warms, exceeds the maximum possible rate of animals being able to adapt to the changes in their environment – local extinctions of animals will start to become more prominent. The research stresses the urgency of understanding the vulnerability of animals to temperature increases and provides a snapshot of what may come to pass if we don’t slow down climate change.

“Our research shows that in areas where the rate of climate warming is worse, we see more rapid bird and mammal population declines. Unless we can find ways to reduce future warming, we can expect these declines to be much worse,” says senior co-author, Dr Robin Freeman head of the Indicators and Assessment Unit at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

“Importantly, our finding does not suggest that human land-use changes, such as for agriculture, development or deforestation do not play a role in the decline of birds and mammals, or that because the decline is climate change related, it’s somehow something for future generations to deal with. Rather, this finding suggests that additional data including higher resolution landscape data is needed to understand the mechanisms driving these declines”.

The report provides further evidence of the growing threat that climate change poses to our wildlife.


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