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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Stephen G Willis

Bagchi, Robert, Hole, David G., Butchart, Stuart H. M., Collingham, Yvonne C., Fishpool, Lincoln D., Plumptre, Andrew J., Owiunji, Isaiah, Mugabe, Hamlet & Willis, Stephen G. (2018). Forecasting potential routes for movement of endemic birds among important sites for biodiversity in the Albertine Rift under projected climate change. Ecography 41(2): 401-413

Author(s) from Durham


The ability of species to shift their distributions in response to climate change may be impeded by lack of suitable climate or habitat between species’ current and future ranges. We examined the potential for climate and forest cover to limit the movement of bird species among sites of biodiversity importance in the Albertine Rift, East Africa, a biodiversity hotspot. We forecasted future distributions of suitable climate for 12 Albertine Rift endemic bird species using species distribution models based on current climate data and projections of future climate. We used these forecasts alongside contemporary forest cover and natal dispersal estimates to project potential movement of species over time. We identified potentially important pathways for the bird species to move among 30 important bird and biodiversity areas (IBAs) that are both currently forested and projected to provide suitable climate over intervening time periods. We examined the relative constraints imposed by availability of suitable climate and forest cover on future movements.

The analyses highlighted important pathways of potential dispersal lying along a north‐south axis through high elevation areas of the Albertine Rift. Both forest availability and climate suitability were projected to influence bird movement through these landscapes as they are affected by future climate change. Importantly, forest cover and areas projected to contain suitable climate in future were often dissociated in space, which could limit species’ responses to climate change. A lack of climatically suitable areas was a far greater impediment to projected movement among IBAs than insufficient forest cover. Although current forest cover appears sufficient to facilitate movement of bird species in this region, protecting the remaining forests in areas also projected to be climatically suitable for species to move through in the future should be a priority for adaptation management.