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Durham University

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Mason, Lucy R., Green, Rhys E., Howard, Christine , Stephens, Philip A., Willis, Stephen G., Aunins, Ainars Brotons, Lluís Chodkiewicz, Tomasz Chylarecki, Przemysław Escandell, Virginia Foppen, Ruud P. B., Herrando, Sergi Husby, Magne Jiguet, Frédéric Kålås, John Atle, Lindström, Åke Massimino, Dario Moshøj, Charlotte Nellis, Renno Paquet, Jean-Yves Reif, Jiří Sirkiä, Päivi M., Szép, Tibor Florenzano, Guido Tellini, Teufelbauer, Norbert Trautmann, Sven van Strien, Arco van Turnhout, Chris A. M., Voříšek, Petr & Gregory, Richard D. (2019). Population responses of bird populations to climate change on two continents vary with species’ ecological traits but not with direction of change in climate suitability. Climatic Change 157(3-4): 337-354.

Author(s) from Durham


Climate change is a major global threat to biodiversity with widespread impacts on ecological communities. Evidence for beneficial impacts on populations is perceived to be stronger and more plentiful than that for negative impacts, but few studies have investigated this apparent disparity, or how ecological factors affect population responses to climatic change. We examined the strength of the relationship between species-specific regional population changes and climate suitability trends (CST), using 30-year datasets of population change for 525 breeding bird species in Europe and the USA. These data indicate a consistent positive relationship between population trend and CST across the two continents. Importantly, we found no evidence that this positive relationship differs between species expected to be negatively and positively impacted across the entire taxonomic group, suggesting that climate change is causing equally strong, quantifiable population increases and declines. Species’ responses to changing climatic suitability varied with ecological traits, however, particularly breeding habitat preference and body mass. Species associated with inland wetlands responded most strongly and consistently to recent climatic change. In Europe, smaller species also appeared to respond more strongly, while the relationship with body mass was less clear-cut for North American birds. Overall, our results identify the role of certain traits in modulating responses to climate change and emphasise the importance of long-term data on abundance for detecting large-scale species’ responses to environmental changes.