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Climate change effects on tropical birds

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Review
The effects of climate change on tropical birds
Çag
˘an H. Sßekerciog
˘lu
a,b,
, Richard B. Primack
c
, Janice Wormworth
d
a
Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South, 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0840, USA
b
KuzeyDog
˘a Derneg
˘i, _
Ismail Aytemiz Cad., _
Istasyon Mah., 36200 Kars, Turkey
c
Biology Department, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
d
6-16 St. Neot Ave., Potts Point, NSW 2011, Australia
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 17 May 2011
Received in revised form 12 October 2011
Accepted 17 October 2011
Available online 22 February 2012
Keywords:
Avian ecology
Biodiversity hotspots
Climate change
Conservation
Deforestation
Endemism
Evolution
Global warming
Ornithology
REDD
Tropical biology
a b s t r a c t
Birds are among the most widely studied organisms on earth and represent an important indicator group
for learning about the effects of climate change – particularly in regard to the effects of climate change on
tropical ecosystems. In this review, we assess the potential impacts of climate change on tropical birds
and discuss the factors that affect species’ ability to adapt and survive the impending alterations in hab-
itat availability. Tropical mountain birds, species without access to higher elevations, coastal forest birds,
and restricted-range species are especially vulnerable. Some birds may be especially susceptible to
increased rainfall seasonality and to extreme weather events, such as heat waves, cold spells, and tropical
cyclones. Birds that experience limited temperature variation and have low basal metabolic rates will be
the most prone to the physiological effects of warming temperatures and heat waves. Mostly unknown
species’ interactions, indirect effects, and synergies of climate change with other threats, such as habitat
loss, emerging diseases, invasive species, and hunting will exacerbate the effects of climate change on
tropical birds. In some models habitat loss can increase bird extinctions caused by climate change by
50%. 3.5 °C surface warming by the year 2100 may result in 600–900 extinctions of land bird species,
89% of which occur in the tropics. Depending on the amount of future habitat loss, each degree of surface
warming could lead to approximately 100–500 additional bird extinctions. Protected areas will be more
important than ever, but they need to be designed with climate change in mind. Although 92% of
currently protected areas are likely to become climatically unsuitable in a century, for example only 7
or 8 priority species’ preferred climatic envelopes are projected to be entirely lost from the African
Important Bird Area network. Networks of protected areas need to incorporate extensive topographical
diversity, cover wide elevational ranges, have high connectivity, and integrate human-dominated
landscapes into conservation schemes. Most tropical bird species vulnerable to climate change are not
currently considered threatened with extinction, often due to lack of knowledge; systematically and
regularly gathering information on the ecology, and current and future distributions of these species is
an urgent priority. Locally based, long-term tropical bird monitoring and conservation programs based
on adaptive management are essential to help protect birds against climate change.
Ó2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2. Geography, habitat and range shifts: which species will be most affected? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2.1. Montane species . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2.2. Species of tropical coastal and island ecosystems. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.3. Birds in extensive lowland forests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.4. Birds in non-forest habitats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.5. Aquatic birds in the tropics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.6. Arid zone species. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2.7. Birds in human-dominated landscapes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
0006-3207/$ - see front matter Ó2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.10.019
Abbreviations: BMR, basal metabolic rate; IBA, Important Bird Area; IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; NPP, net primary productivity.
Corresponding author at: Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South, 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0840, USA. Tel.: +1 801 585 1052.
E-mail address: c.s@utah.edu (Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu).
Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Biological Conservation
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w . e l s e v i e r . c o m / l o c a t e / b i o c o n
Author's personal copy
2.8. Projected impacts of range shifts on tropical birds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2.9. Manakins: a case study. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3. Evolution and adaptation: slow lives in a fast-paced new world . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3.1. How physiology and microclimate impact tropical bird species’ ability to adapt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
3.2. Basal metabolic rate in tropical birds: implications for survival . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4. Role of mobility and migration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
5. Interspecific interactions and indirect effects. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
5.1. Ecosystem functions and services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
6. Destructive synergies: climate change exacerbates other environmental stressors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
6.1. Habitat loss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
6.2. Hunting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
6.3. Invasive species . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
6.4. Emerging diseases and shifting disease vectors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
7. Seasonality and variability. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
7.1. Extreme weather events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
8. Discussion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
8.1. Future projections and models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
8.2. The need for more tropical research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
8.3. The value of protected areas for tropical birds: planning for future change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
8.4. Research and management. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
1. Introduction
Climate change is increasingly recognized, along with habitat
destruction, as one of the most serious and widespread threats to
biological diversity (IPCC, 2007). As scientists search for the best
biological indicators of human-induced climate change, birds offer
two advantages: first, they are the best-known class of organisms
when it comes to climate research (Wormworth and Sßekerciog
˘lu,
2011), and second, millions of citizen-scientist birdwatchers
track them across the globe, contributing to extensive datasets
(Kinzelbach, 1995;www.ebird.org;www.worldbirds.org). For
example, the arrival dates of migratory birds feature prominently
in the long phenological records of Europe, in part thanks to natural-
ists like Robert Marsham who began compiling ‘Indications of
Spring’ in 1736 (Lehikoinen et al., 2004).
As a well-studied, globally-distributed indicator group, birds’ are
excellent bellwethers of climate change effects on biodiversity. Bird
distributional shifts have already been linked to climate change
(Gregory et al., 2009; Niven et al., 2009; Chen et al., 2011). Un-
checked climate change, combined with habitat loss, may lead to
the extinctions of hundreds of bird species (Sßekerciog
˘lu et al.,
2008). Tropical bird species’ particular vulnerability to climate
change is increasingly recognized (La Sorte and Jetz, 2010; Harris
et al., 2011; Sodhi et al., 2011; Wormworth and Sßekerciog
˘lu,
2011). Most tropical birds are sedentary, endemic species isolated
on tropical mountains (Janzen, 1967; Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008) and
lowland species without access to higher elevations (Loarie et al.,
2009) are likely to face greater risk. However, there are few studies
of climate change effects on the bird communities of entire tropical
forest regions (Harris et al., 2011), and few tropical bird families
have been assessed in their entirety (see the case study, section 2.9).
Yet information on current and predicted climate change im-
pacts on tropical birds could be used to evaluate the suitability
of current conservation practices, such as the adequacy of existing
protected area networks, and to suggest management strategies to
prevent the future decline and extinction of these species. Many
physiological, ecological, and biogeographical characteristics that
make certain bird species more susceptible to climate change are
also present in non-avian groups. Ongoing measures and manage-
ment regimes to reduce climate change threats to bird communi-
ties could also help species in other groups.
With these in mind, we have conducted an extensive review of
the literature on the effects of climate change on tropical birds. We
searched the Web of Knowledge™ with the keywords climat
AND
chang
AND bird
and their variations. We focused on the studies
on tropical birds and also read the relevant articles cited in and cit-
ing these articles. In a few cases, where tropical examples were not
available, we gave temperate examples of phenomena that should
be watched for in tropical systems. Two of us (ÇHSßand JW) spent
the past two years reviewing and summarizing the literature on
climate change effects on birds for a recent book (Wormworth
and Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2011).
Our main goals are to outline the existing and potential effects
of climate change on tropical bird communities, to examine why
certain bird species are more susceptible to climate change, and
to discuss how this information can be used to improve the conser-
vation and management of birds and other taxa in the face of esca-
lating climate change.
2. Geography, habitat and range shifts: which species will be
most affected?
This section outlines how certain geographical (e.g. mountains)
and habitat (e.g. forests) features are likely to interact with climate
change to affect tropical birds. It also discusses modeled results of
range shifts due to climate change, and their consequences for
birds.
Despite the uncertainties in predicting precipitation changes in
the tropics, multiple models based on the IPCC A2 Emissions Sce-
nario predict tropical drying trends, ‘‘in relatively intense, localized
regions at the margins of the convection zones’’ particularly in the
Caribbean/Central America region and equatorial South America
(Neelin et al., 2006). Although overall tropical drying trends com-
prise a significantly larger fraction of the average changes in rain-
fall, some locations will experience more precipitation, including
the equatorial Pacific region of the convection zones, and increased
Southeast Asian summer monsoon (Neelin et al., 2006).
Temperature increase is the main driver of climate change-
caused habitat loss at higher elevations, whereas precipitation
changes are the main cause in lowlands (Enquist, 2002; Li et al.,
2009). Because endemism is greater at higher elevations in the
tropics (Enquist, 2002), temperature has a greater effect on tropical
2Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18
Author's personal copy
vertebrate ranges than does precipitation (McCain, 2009). Temper-
ature, through its effects on evapotranspiration and NPP, also has a
crucial effect on vegetation change in the tropics (Delire et al., 2008)
and temperature increases are likely to have a greater impact in
the loss of tropical endemics than are changes in precipitation.
However, past changes in bird communities suggest that major
changes in precipitation patterns, such as changes in the monsoon
regime, may be more important than temperature changes,
particularly if warming is limited to 2 °C (Tyrberg, 2010).
2.1. Montane species
Tropical mountain species are among birds most vulnerable to
climate change (Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008; Wormworth and Sßeker-
ciog
˘lu, 2011). Extinction risk increases as birds’ elevational ranges
narrow (Fig. 1). In addition, a given elevational range translates
into a much smaller area of occupancy at the top of a mountain
compared to its base; for example, the top and bottom one-meter
bands of a hundred-meter tall square pyramid differ in area by two
orders of magnitude. Where warming temperatures reduce many
montane species ranges’ by forcing them to shift upslope, some
species may be driven to local (or global) extinction, particularly
species endemic to tropical highlands (Shoo et al., 2005a; Colwell
et al., 2008; Gasner et al., 2010; La Sorte and Jetz, 2010;Figs. 2
and 3). Conversely, bird species with access to intact habitats span-
ning a wide elevational range are expected to be less affected by
climate change (Anciaes and Peterson, 2009). Despite the impor-
tance to estimates of tropical birds extinctions, few data exist on
the potential extent and magnitude of current and future shifts
in tropical birds’ elevational limits in response to climate change
(Bohning-Gaese and Lemoine, 2004; Laurance et al., 2011; Shoo
et al., 2006; e.g. Figs. 2 and 3). Yet, studies of ‘disappearing cli-
mates’ further emphasize the threats to birds of tropical moun-
tains. Areas with disappearing climates are expected to be
concentrated at the poleward regions of continents, but also in
tropical mountain regions, including areas that correspond to bio-
diversity hotspots (Williams et al., 2007). In this regard, tropical
mountain cloud forests deserve special mention for the dispropor-
tionately high and concentrated biodiversity they host. For exam-
ple, widespread epiphytes provide birds with food and nesting
materials. However, these plants occupy fine-grained climate
niches on tree trunks, crooks and branches, and epiphyte mortality
can occur under even slight climatic change, with cascading effects
on cloud forest communities. With warming, many cloud forests
can be expected to experience reduced cloud cover, less water
capture and drier ecosystems (WTMA, 2008; Karmalkar et al.,
2008) as current climate conditions shift upslope. In the IPCC
report, Fischlin et al. (2007) emphasized that tropical mountain
cloud forests are among the tropical forest regions where endemics
are at ‘‘disproportionately high risk of extinction’’.
Elevational distribution is often used as a proxy for population
size. However, in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, highland bird
populations (e.g. Fig. 2) may decline even more quickly than sug-
gested by warming-induced range contractions (Shoo et al.,
2005b). For most bird populations, their abundance is unlikely to
be distributed uniformly across their ranges and across different
elevations. Although climate-change induced alterations in abun-
dance patterns have important conservation implications, these
changes have not been well studied (Shoo et al., 2005b). Also little
understood are potential increases in net primary productivity that
may partially ameliorate some of projected impacts of global
warming on the biodiversity of tropical highlands (Williams
et al., 2010).
Hotter lowland zones tend to isolate the populations of
upland tropical birds, which are often sedentary (Janzen, 1967).
Tropical montane endemics like Venezuela’s endangered scissor-
tailed hummingbird (Hylonympha macrocerca) or regal sunbird
(Nectarinia regia) of East Africa (Fig. 3) have limited capacity to
shift their ranges across such unsuitable habitat to other mountain
ranges, which could make such birds particularly vulnerable to
extinction from climate change. Yet, because tropical mountains
tend to have low human populations and more intact habitat rel-
ative to tropical lowlands, most tropical montane bird species, like
golden bowerbirds (Prionodura newtoniana), have been considered
to be of least conservation concern – but now face the looming
threat of climate change (Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008; Shoo et al.,
2005a;Fig. 2). Due to limited data, climate change is only recently
being incorporated into the assessments of extinction likelihood
(BirdLife International, 2008), but it is increasingly realized that
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
2 2.2 2.4 2.6 2.8 3 3.2 3.4 3.6 3.8
Log of elevational range
Landbrid species currently
at risk of extinction (%)
Fig. 1. The relationship between bird extinction risk and elevational range
(r
2
= 0.97, p< 0.0001). The x-axis is the log
10
of each species’ elevational range
rounded up to the nearest hundred meters (upper elevational limit – lower
elevational limit). For example, the point corresponding to 2 (=log of 100 m) on the
x-axis means that of the 79 bird species that have elevational ranges that are
6100 m, 72% are threatened or near threatened with extinction. Reprinted with
permission from Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. (2008). Climate change, elevational range shifts,
and bird extinctions. Conservation Biology 22, 140–150.
Fig. 2. Predicted area of golden bowerbird habitat in a number of future climate
change scenarios including a range of changes in rainfall and from one to three
degrees of warming. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier, David W. Hilbert and
CSIRO. Hilbert et al. (2004) Golden bowerbird (Prionodura newtonia) habitat in past,
present and future climates: predicted extinction of a vertebrate in tropical
highlands due to global warming. Biological Conservation 116, 367–377.
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18 3
Author's personal copy
in the long term, ‘‘it may be the most serious threat of all’’ (BirdLife
International, 2008; Hilton-Taylor et al., 2009).
2.2. Species of tropical coastal and island ecosystems
Effects of climate change on tropical coastal forests, such as
mangrove forests, are even less known. Tropical coastal ecosys-
tems are disappearing at a rapid rate and are highly sensitive to
both climate change and concomitant sea level rise (Waycott
et al., 2009). The loss of these coastal habitats should concern us
greatly because they provide key ecosystem functions and services
(Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2010a), such as reducing the damage caused by
tsunamis.
Tropical forests and bird communities on oceanic islands are
especially vulnerable to climate change. More than any other hab-
itat, these communities have already suffered greatly from intro-
duced invasive species and exploitation (BirdLife International,
2011). Island ecosystems have been drastically modified, and most
still experience ongoing habitat loss. This includes the loss of land
area due to rising sea levels resulting from global climate change
(Kingsford et al., 2009). Coastal flooding is likely to reduce the ex-
tent of coastal wetlands on small islands, and increases in the num-
ber of extreme events, including a possible increase in the number
of intense tropical cyclones, could degrade tropical forests that are
often small in extent, and may be slow to regenerate (Mimura
et al., 2007). Many threatened tropical island endemics such as
the critically endangered mangrove finch (Camarhynchus helio-
bates) on the Galapagos Islands, endangered Abbott’s booby (Papa-
sula abbotti) on Christmas Island, and critically endangered
Cozumel thrasher (Toxostoma guttatum) of Mexico now face the
additional threat of climate change.
Tropical seabirds reliant on coastal zones and islands are also
vulnerable, particularly during the breeding season (e.g. Ancona
et al., 2011). Tropical seabirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
are vulnerable not just to warming events that affect their foraging
success (Peck et al., 2004; Erwin and Congdon, 2007), but also to
sea level rise that could inundate the low-lying coral cays which
host their breeding colonies. Most cays are less than three metres
above the high water mark, and low-lying cays, which are pre-
ferred by most seabirds, could be flooded in the future during
storm surges or even at high tide (Hulsman & Devney, 2010).
2.3. Birds in extensive lowland forests
For species in extensive low-lying areas such as the Amazon and
Congo basins, where topographical diversity is lacking, climate
change poses an additional challenge. As climate warms, many
types of vegetation and dependent organisms – including fruit trees
and insects that many birds depend on – may be expected to shift
their distributions to track their preferred microclimates. Broadly
speaking, this would entail dispersal toward the poles or to higher
altitudes (Gregory et al., 2009; Janzen, 1967; Niven et al., 2009;
Pounds et al., 1999; Shoo et al., 2006). Where upslope shifts are
made possible due to the proximity of mountains, this may require
relatively short dispersal distances for vegetation and dependent
species. Yet in extensive flat areas, where mountains are few and
far between, such as the Amazon basin and the Congo basin, plant
and animal communities may need to move far greater distances
to track their climate preferences (Anciaes and Peterson, 2009; Loa-
rie et al., 2009; Menon et al., 2009; Peterson et al., 2002, 2001;
Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008). Poor dispersers, such as birds of the forest
interior (e.g., endangered Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis and
vulnerable rufous twistwing, Cnipodectes superrufus), may not be
able to make these range shifts. Furthermore, tropical lowland com-
munities may experience net biotic attrition, as a result of the spe-
cies moving to higher elevations not being replaced by other
species (Colwell et al., 2008).
2.4. Birds in non-forest habitats
Although relevant studies of tropical birds have mainly focused
on forest species (e.g. Pounds et al., 1999; Shoo et al., 2005a), thou-
sands of tropical bird species inhabit diverse open habitats such as
savanna, cerrado, grasslands, karoo, scrub, deserts, and human-
dominated areas. Recently, Marini et al. (2009) modeled the ex-
pected effects of climate change on the distributions of 26 wide-
spread bird species of the cerrado. This ecosystem has the largest
extent of tropical savanna worldwide, and 44% of its approximately
10,000 plant species are endemic. Projected range size contractions
of up to 80% will affect various savanna (e.g. near threatened coal-
crested finch, Charitospiza eucosma) and grassland (e.g. vulnerable
lesser nothura, Nothura minor) species, and species with smaller
ranges (Marini et al., 2009). Range shifts of 175–200 km towards
southeastern Brazil are predicted, but the dispersal of species could
be thwarted because that region has high levels of human popula-
tion and development (Marini et al., 2009). Extensive deforestation
of the Brazilian Atlantic forest further exacerbates the effects of cli-
mate change (Loiselle et al., 2010).
2.5. Aquatic birds in the tropics
Climatic models have focused mainly on terrestrial species.
However, the diversity patterns of aquatic birds such as waders,
ducks, and geese differ from those of terrestrial bird species
(Ramirez-Bastida et al., 2008). Coastal regions, which often have
high bird diversity, will be affected by rising sea levels. Yet,
Fig. 3. Modeled future range of regal sunbird (Nectarinia regia). Reprinted with permission from BirdLife International (2008) Groundbreaking work will help Africa’s
biodiversity combat climate change. URL: http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2008/07/rwanda_meeting.html.
4Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18
Author's personal copy
because coastal wetlands are often bounded by agriculture and set-
tlements, opportunities for range shifts are limited. These wetlands
include Florida’s Everglades and its globally important colonies of
roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), wood storks (Mycteria ameri-
cana), and other waterbirds. Vast coastal swamps in northern
Australia are also at risk, including Kakadu, which harbors more
than 280 bird species. Only marginally above sea level, these trop-
ical wetlands have already proven to be vulnerable to salt water
incursion. Yet this region’s sea level rise is currently occurring at
four times the global average rate. Exacerbated by tropical storms,
sea level rise could cause these highly productive wetland areas to
be transformed into salt pans, greatly degrading their potential to
host bird populations (Traill et al., 2010; Garnett and Brook, 2011).
On the other hand, salt-tolerant coastal marshes are likely to ex-
pand and this could benefit the species that prefer these wetlands.
Birds of peat swamp forests are also of concern. Of all forest
types, peat swamp forests are the most vulnerable to fires, partic-
ularly during droughts and El Niño years (Posa et al., 2011). These
fires can take months to extinguish. They also exacerbate climate
change by causing the release of massive amounts of carbon stored
in these peat forests, adding to the global greenhouse gas burden.
Unfortunately, no global analyses have been undertaken to
model the expected changes in tropical wetland/coastal habitats
in response to climate change scenarios. Additional factors such
as hunting, disease, and habitat loss further threaten tropical wet-
land species (Traill et al., 2009, 2010). Given their dependence on
water, tropical aquatic birds will be particularly vulnerable to cli-
mate change.
2.6. Arid zone species
Arid zone species, such as desert cisticola (Cisticola aridulus), are
assumed to be resilient to high temperatures and low humidity.
However, these species are already exposed to extreme conditions
and are often dependent on seasonal rains, as well as on aquatic
habitats such as riparian forests, seasonal and permanent water-
holes, lakes, and rivers (Schneider and Griesser, 2009). We have
limited knowledge of how future changes in temperature may af-
fect rainfall patterns, and how further increases in already high
temperatures and/or changes in rainfall regimes may affect the
availability of other sources of water and food. The disappearance
of water sources is likely to be devastating for these ‘‘oasis’’ com-
munities, and the added stress of higher temperatures and possibly
scarcer rainfall could test the tolerances of even these seemingly
hardy species. Even small temperature increases can greatly
increase the amount of birds’ evaporative water loss. Hotter
weather due to climate change is expected to test the ability of
desert birds to sustain their water balance, and climate change is
expected to lead to more frequent episodes of catastrophic mortal-
ity by the 2080s. Modeling suggests that small desert birds will
require 150–200% more water during the hottest period of the
day to survive predicted increases in maximum daily temperature
(McKechnie and Erasmus, 2006; McKechnie and Wolf, 2010).
2.7. Birds in human-dominated landscapes
Ecologists tend to focus their studies on relatively intact ecosys-
tems, but this limits our ability to predict climate change impacts
on human-dominated ecosystems (Felton et al., 2009). Because
human-dominated lands make up a large and growing subset of
tropical ecosystems, it would be worthwhile to gather more
data about birds that are impacted by human activity. Some
human activities and human-dominated areas can be modified to
allow birds to survive, and research may identify the changes
needed to foster this. For example, some forest birds, such as
silver-throated tanagers (Tangara icterocephala), orange-billed
nightingale-thrushes (Catharus aurantiirostris), and white-throated
thrushes (Turdus assimilis) persist in the agricultural landscapes of
southern Costa Rica by either adapting to coffee plantations or by
focusing their activities on remnant trees, riparian strips, and small
forest fragments (Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2007). As human-dominated
ecosystems increasingly surround intact ecosystems, improving
the conservation capacity of human-dominated tropical country-
side will be critical. This will include increases in landscape connec-
tivity and other improvements that optimize the potential for
species to carry out range shifts in response to climate change.
2.8. Projected impacts of range shifts on tropical birds
Modeled shifts in species’ ranges in the Neotropics indicate that
those in the tropical parts of the Mexican and Andean mountains,
and in the biodiversity hotspot of Central America could be the
most affected by climate change (Lawler et al., 2009). In 80% of cli-
mate change scenarios, these regions are expected to lose 25–38%
of their endemic species (Lawler et al., 2009). The Brazilian Atlantic
forests and the southern and western boundaries of the Brazilian
cerrado are also likely to experience high species turnover. Hun-
dreds of restricted-range species are expected to be at the risk of
extinction as a result of climate change (Lawler et al., 2009). Cli-
mate change is likely to exacerbate the conservation status of this
region’s already threatened bird species, such as the endangered
horned guan (Oreophasis derbianus) in the cloud forests of Mexico
and Guatemala, endangered Cochabamba mountain-finch (Comp-
sospiza garleppi) in the Bolivian Andes, vulnerable red-fronted par-
rotlet (Touit costaricensis) in Costa Rica and Panama, critically
endangered kinglet calyptura (Calyptura cristata) in the Brazilian
Atlantic forest, and also critically endangered blue-eyed ground-
dove (Columbina cyanopis) in the Brazilian cerrado. In sub-Saharan
Africa, bird species projected to undergo the greatest range con-
tractions inhabit the temperate areas of the Cape (e.g., the vulner-
able Knysna warbler, Bradypterus sylvaticus in South Africa), the
Horn of Africa (e.g., the endangered Warsangli linnet, Carduelis
johannis in Somalia), East Africa (e.g., the endangered Sharpe’s
longclaw, Macronyx sharpie in Kenya), and montane (e.g., the vul-
nerable Usambara eagle-owl, Bubo vosseleri in Tanzania) and
semi-arid (e.g., the critically endangered Liben lark, Heteromirafra
sidamoensis, in Ethiopia) habitats (Huntley et al., 2006). Although
Afrotropical birds associated primarily with equatorial and moist
tropical forest habitats are expected to experience relatively less
change in their distributions (Huntley et al., 2006), species in
extensive, flat lowlands, such as the Congo basin, will need to move
much greater distances than species in mountainous areas (Loarie
et al., 2009).
In Southeast Asia, some tropical forest bird species have appar-
ently already begun to shift their ranges in response to increased
temperatures. Peh (2007) used data from field guides to show that
94 common resident species of Southeast Asian forests, such as the
little forktail (Enicurus scouleri), brown bush warbler (Bradypterus
luteoventris), and russet sparrow (Passer rutilans), shifted the upper,
lower or both boundaries of their distributions to higher altitudes
from 1971 to 1999.
Tropical montane birds in Peru also appear to be shifting ups-
lope in response to warming (Forero-Medina et al., 2011). In the
Cerros del Sira, the elevational limits of birds from the same spe-
cies vary from peak to peak, implying that birds’ range margins
are unlikely to be a simple response to temperature. Yet these bird
species show a consistent upslope range shifts in response to
warming from 1969 to 2010. Nevertheless, their shifts lag behind
warming, and this may reflect an indirect response to temperature
via gradual alteration of their food supplies, habitat, or other inter-
actions (see Section 5).
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
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Where ecosystems migrate in response to temperature change,
the availability of habitats and resources for bird species may
be disrupted as well. Different types of birds will have varying
rates of success in coping with these changes. Success may depend
on whether birds’ preferred food sources successfully track climate
change and shift to these new vegetation zones or, alternatively,
how well the bird species adapt to new vegetation and food
sources. The important concern for conservation planners is thus
not only how to protect tropical birds now, but also how to deter-
mine the rate at which birds and associated tropical ecosystems
will migrate over time so that future habitats can also be
protected.
Loarie et al. (2009) calculated an index of the velocity required
for ecological communities to keep up with climate change (Fig. 4).
Although this velocity is not uniform across habitats and regions,
in general terms, 92% of protected areas are likely to become cli-
matically unsuitable in a century, especially in grasslands, savan-
nas, deserts, and mangroves (Loarie et al., 2009). Nevertheless, an
analysis of African Important Bird Areas (IBA) indicates that all
but 7–8 priority species’ will retain some of their preferred climatic
envelopes in the IBA network, showing the importance of carefully
designed protected area networks (Hole et al., 2009). Protected
areas will remain vital, but will need to be enlarged based on
future range shift projections. Under climate change, protected
area planning must consider not only the current habitat
needs of a given species or community, but also the areas that
could accommodate future needs as temperatures warm. Ideally,
habitat corridors should be used to provide high connectivity
between protected areas, but this will require better integration
of human-dominated landscapes into conservation schemes.
Equally important, protected areas must assess potential barriers
to migration, both natural – rivers, oceans, and unsuitable soils –
and human-made, including settlements, farmlands, and coastal
fortifications. The problem of extensive protected areas losing
bird populations due to climate change (Mac Nally et al., 2009)
makes it essential to integrate human-dominated landscapes into
conservation areas.
2.9. Manakins: a case study
The family Pipridae (manakins) is endemic to the Neotropical
region. The roughly 45 species in this family are limited to various
forest habitats and nearby second growth. Ranging from lowlands
to montane forest, manakins prefer relatively humid conditions,
even in drier areas, where they are limited to gallery forest (Snow,
2004). Because these species are restricted to Neotropical forest
habitats, consist of dozens of species with varied geographic distri-
butions and ecological preferences, and have wide-ranging eleva-
tional distributions, manakins provide an ideal opportunity to
model climate change effects on the distribution of a tropical bird
family. Anciaes and Peterson (2009) used ecological niche model-
ing (Peterson et al., 2001) to model manakins’ ecological niches,
based on these birds’ present distributions and climatic prefer-
ences. They then combined these models with climatic projections
for the mid-21st century. The results indicate that manakin species
limited to the lowland habitats of the Amazon basin and cerrado
(e.g. the helmeted manakin, Antilophia galeata) will be the most af-
fected. That is, these species would need to move relatively greater
distances to track their environmental niches. These species are ex-
pected to lose 80% of their habitable area; moreover 20% of the cer-
rado manakin species are expected to go extinct. In other
ecoregions dominated by mountains, predicted loss of potential
area (16–50%) and expected extinctions (0–5%) are much lower.
This demonstrates the importance of topographic diversity in buf-
fering against forced range shifts due to climate change. The
researchers also predicted that manakin distributions will become
more fragmented, highlighting the conservation challenge climate
change will pose for many tropical bird groups.
3. Evolution and adaptation: slow lives in a fast-paced new
world
This section focuses on the aspects of tropical bird species’ life
histories and ecologies that may affect their capacity to adapt to
Fig. 4. The velocity of temperature change globally. (a) Temporal gradients calculated from 2000–2100 across three emissions scenarios (A2, A1B and B1). (b) Temporal
gradients calculated from 2000–2050 and 2050–2100 across three emissions scenarios. Trends plotted here are the average of the global land surface. (c) A global map of
climate velocity calculated using the 2050–2100 Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A1B emissions scenario temporal gradient. This is the instantaneous local
velocity along Earth’s surface needed to maintain constant temperatures at a location, and has a global mean of 0.42 km year
ÿ1
. For example, in a dark red area, vegetation
would need to shift 10 km year
ÿ1
to keep up with climate change. Reprinted with permission from Loarie et al. (2009) The velocity of climate change. Nature 462, 1052–1055.
6Ç.H. Sßekerciog
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climate change. Climate change also has evolutionary conse-
quences (Bonaccorso et al., 2006). For some species, adaptive re-
sponses such as phenotypic plasticity, learning, and maternal
effects, along with migration rates, are unlikely to be sufficient to
keep pace with climate change, and the rate of microevolution will
be the primary determinant of their ability to adapt to climate
change (Visser, 2008). Yet most vertebrates will be unable to
evolve rapidly enough to adapt to anthropogenic climate change,
exacerbated by extensive habitat loss (Njabo and Sorenson,
2009); bird species will be lost at a far higher rate than the rate
of the evolution of new species.
On actual and ecological islands, geographic isolation and long-
term environmental stability are among the features that promote
endemism and speciation, yet these same features make island
species especially vulnerable to environmental change (Fordham
and Brook, 2010). Tropical mountain areas, for example, have been
the centers of speciation and endemism due to their isolation
(Voelker et al., 2010) and long-term habitat stability (Fjeldsa and
Lovett, 1997; Graham et al., 2006). In Africa, Pliocene climate
change has driven the speciation of African forest birds like the
Cameroon mountain greenbul (Andropadus montanus) by causing
lowland forest retraction and rapid isolation of montane forests
(Njabo and Sorenson, 2009; Voelker et al., 2010). Ongoing climate
change will further isolate tropical montane forests.
However, species’ ecological niches are unlikely to evolve sub-
stantially during the decadal time-scales over which climate
change is expected to take place (see references in Anciaes and Pet-
erson, 2009), especially for organisms with long generation times
(e.g. seabirds, parrots, cassowaries). Compared to birds in temper-
ate regions, many tropical bird species experience less seasonality
and more stable temperature and humidity regimes. These condi-
tions favor birds with ‘‘slower’’ lives, that is, those with ‘‘k-se-
lected’’ life histories characterized by smaller clutch sizes (Jetz
et al., 2008a), lower productivity, and longer life spans (Wiersma
et al., 2007). Consequently, tropical bird species with less demo-
graphic flexibility than their temperate counterparts are unlikely
to evolve as quickly in response to rapid climatic change. More-
over, recent research suggests that high-elevation birds have life-
history strategies similar to those of low-latitude birds (Tieleman,
2009). This raises further concern about tropical high-elevation
species with particularly slow life histories (see above). Not only
are high-elevation birds particularly susceptible to climate change,
but most high-elevation endemic bird species are found in the
tropics.
As long-lived homeotherms, many tropical birds’ population
growth rates should be less affected by climate change induced
variability in their demographic rates (e.g. survival, reproduction,
or growth) than those of short-lived species like insects (Morris
et al., 2008). Furthermore, research has shown that tropical popu-
lations, through their long-term persistence during periods of cli-
mate change, have accumulated more genetic variability relative
to populations in more temperate areas (and likely at higher eleva-
tions in the tropics). Populations of the latter groups have been fre-
quently eliminated during colder periods, or have gone through
more population bottlenecks, and thus possess reduced genetic
variability (Hewitt, 1996).
Although tropical birds are longer-lived, on average, than their
temperate relatives (Wiersma et al., 2007), the advantage of longer
lifespans is likely to be negated by other factors that make tropical
birds more vulnerable, such as smaller clutch sizes (Jetz et al.,
2008a), more sedentary habits (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2007), and lower tol-
erance of climatic variability (Seavy, 2006; Weathers, 1997).
Not all effects of climate change are negative, and changes in
temperature and precipitation regimes will benefit some species.
How a bird’s life history will respond to climate change may
be unexpected and hard to predict, as shown by male northern
mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). This non-tropical species dem-
onstrates more elaborate sexual displays with increased climatic
variability (Botero et al., 2009). Warmer temperatures may alter
birds’ reproductive strategies, countering some negative demo-
graphic effects of climate change, and enabling some species to
expand to new areas (Jarvinen, 1994), but this is yet to be demon-
strated in the tropics.
Conversely, ‘‘r-selected’’ bird species with short generation
times, large clutches, multiple broods, and the ability to re-nest
after losing an entire clutch, are also more likely to recover from
adult, juvenile, and nest mortality caused by extreme weather
and other climate change effects (Angert et al., 2011). Generalist
species that can use a wide range of habitats and/or feed on differ-
ent kinds of food are less threatened with extinction (Sßekerciog
˘lu,
2011). These species are expected to be more likely to adapt to or
even benefit from climate change, often at the expense of special-
ists. Overall, many traits that reduce birds’ likelihood of extinction
to other threats are also likely to prove advantageous in coping
with climate change (Wormworth and Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2011).
Nevertheless, climate change will not benefit many species. Be-
cause individualistic responses are likely, climate change could
bring about the formation of novel communities and even lead to
community disassembly, especially in diverse tropical communi-
ties with a wide range of life histories.
3.1. How physiology and microclimate impact tropical bird species’
ability to adapt
Current understanding of interspecific variation in physiological
traits is limited and needs further study. However, we can make
some general observations about how these factors will influence
tropical bird species’ ability to adapt to climate change (Bernardo
et al., 2007). In comparison to ectotherms, endothermic birds are
more likely to be indirectly affected by climate change via its im-
pacts on vegetation in their communities, rather than via direct ef-
fects on physiology (Aragon et al., 2010). Nevertheless, an
increasing number of studies hint at the vital role birds’ physiolog-
ical responses to climate change will play (McKechnie, 2008;
McNab, 2009).
Birds living in hotter and drier habitats (e.g. Somali bee-eater,
Merops revoilii) often show physiological adaptations, such as re-
duced thermal conductance (Weathers, 1997), lower evaporative
water loss (Weathers and Greene, 1998), and higher heat tolerance,
exemplified by variable seedeaters (Sporophila aurita;Weathers
et al., 2001). Open habitat sunbirds in Uganda (e.g. scarlet-chested
Sunbird, Nectarinia senegalensis) have reduced thermal conduc-
tance, better insulation and greater ability to tolerate fluctuating
temperatures than do forest sunbirds (Seavy, 2006). Lowland and
open-country bird species that have adapted to higher tempera-
tures are likely to tolerate temperature increases better than high-
land species and species of the forest interior (Weathers, 1997).
Furthermore, climate change can favor open-country species’ pen-
etration into climatically-compromised forest remnants (Laurance,
2004). One theory is that while birds that are thermal specialists
perform at a high level but within a narrow band of body temper-
atures, thermal generalists can perform at a low level across a wide
range of temperatures and maintain a lower body temperature
during heat stress (Boyles et al., 2011).
Changes in temperature and humidity will also have indirect ef-
fects on avian activity and behavior. If birds avoid sites with unfa-
vorable climates, this could reduce important activities such as
feeding and breeding displays (Walsberg, 1993). Many tropical for-
est species, such as silver-throated tanagers (Tangara icterocephala)
in Costa Rica, spend a lot of time in the cool and humid forest
interior, but they display and forage in exposed areas, such as song
perches and fruiting canopy trees. Intensive radio-tracking
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18 7
Author's personal copy
combined with constant monitoring of habitat temperature and
humidity revealed that these birds track temperature and humid-
ity differences as small as 0.8 °C and 4.2%, respectively (Sßekerciog
˘lu
et al., 2007).
Physiological limitations also shape habitat selection. In tropical
forests, holes or hollows in trees are critical resources for many
birds because they provide safe nesting cavities and microclimatic
refugia from higher outside temperatures (Isaac et al., 2008). Cav-
ity-nesting behavior has recently been shown to be a critical factor
in determining avian clutch size, illustrating the importance of cav-
ities (Jetz et al., 2008a). As global temperatures increase, tree hol-
lows are expected to become more important to birds than ever
(Isaac et al., 2008). However, the large, older trees most likely to
have these cavities are often those first logged in tropical forests;
even in protected forests, dead trees that provide hollows are often
collected for firewood. Increasing scarcity of such older trees, com-
bined with temperature-sensitive species’ growing need for tree
hollows, suggest that cavity-nesters such as woodpeckers, owls,
and parrots will face more competition for the remaining hollows.
They may need to compete for these resources not only with other
birds, but also with cavity-dwelling mammals (Isaac et al., 2008).
In Monteverde, Costa Rica, climate change has already enabled
keel-billed toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus), cavity-nesting nest
predators, to expand their range into the highlands, where they
now compete with the montane forest specialist resplendent quet-
zals (Pharomachrus mocinno) for nest holes, as well as preying on
quetzal nests (Pounds et al., 1999).
3.2. Basal metabolic rate in tropical birds: implications for survival
Basal metabolic rate (BMR), the standard measure of the energy
cost of maintenance, has been called ‘‘the obligatory cost of living
for endotherms’’ (Barcelo et al., 2009). Although knowledge of BMR
is critically important to determine birds’ physiological tolerance
to climate change, data on BMR and how it varies among tropical
birds is limited. BMR is not a fixed, taxon-specific trait, but has high
phenotypic flexibility (McKechnie, 2008). Compared to ectotherms,
birds have more physiological flexibility to respond to temperature
changes, but the degree of flexibility also varies greatly among bird
species (McKechnie, 2008).
BMR is especially flexible in migratory birds (McNab, 2009), and
this fact suggests that sedentary tropical birds that live in habitats
with low climatic variability are likely to have less flexible BMRs.
This inference is supported by an analysis of 71 bird species’ re-
sponses to the 2003–2004 heat wave in France (Jiguet et al.,
2006). Whereas bird species with the widest thermal range (e.g.
carrion crow, Corvus corone) were least affected, birds with the nar-
rowest thermal range (e.g. rook, Corvus frugilegus) suffered signifi-
cant population declines (Jiguet et al., 2006). The study concluded
that a bird species’ thermal range is a reliable predictor of its resil-
ience to extreme temperatures. This suggests that thousands of
tropical forest bird species that currently experience limited tem-
perature variation will be among the most susceptible birds to
the physiological effects of warming climates and heat waves. Sim-
ilar studies are needed in the tropics. Where the frequency of such
heat waves increases, selection pressure will mount and will favor
birds that can cope, with thermal generalists likely having an
advantage (Boyles et al., 2011).
Birds of lower trophic levels, such as frugivores and granivores,
tend to have higher BMRs than those at higher trophic levels, such
as insectivores (Sabat et al., 2009). Migratory bird species, which
experience a wider range of temperatures, also have higher BMRs
(McNab, 2009). On the other hand, non-passerines, flightless birds,
island birds, and tropical birds tend to have lower BMRs (McNab,
2009; Wiersma et al., 2007). Because higher BMR enables the use
of a wider range of thermal environments, increases dispersal
ability, and improves adaptability to climate change (Bernardo
et al., 2007), birds with lower BMR (e.g., dusky antbird, Cercomacra
tyrannina or wedge-billed woodcreeper, Glyphorhynchus spirurus)
are at a disadvantage. Most studies of birds’ responses to climate
change focus on migratory, mainland passerines of temperate hab-
itats. This limited focus suggests that our understanding of birds’
metabolic capacity to adapt to climate change could be overly opti-
mistic and unrealistic for most of the world’s sedentary, tropical
bird species.
The speed and magnitude of a bird’s BMR response may also de-
pend on the prevailing temperature of its environment (McKech-
nie, 2008). Tropical montane birds that experience lower
temperatures (e.g. Papuan mountain-pigeon, Gymnophaps albertis-
ii) are likely to show slower responses to future climate change
than lowland species. Yet, BMR responses may be critical: even
risk-taking and predator avoidance behavior have been shown to
be influenced by BMR (Moller, 2009). BMR variability’s importance
as a shaper of birds’ responses to climate change demonstrates
why studies of tropical birds’ physiological responses to climate
change constitute an urgent research priority.
4. Role of mobility and migration
Due to their high mobility, birds are better able to disperse in
response to climate change than many other organisms. However,
even seemingly rapid distribution shifts may not be sufficient to
track climate change (Devictor et al., 2008). Most tropical bird spe-
cies and their habitats will not be able to shift fast enough or far
enough to track their preferred climate envelopes, particularly in
flat, lowland areas (Loarie et al., 2009).
Long-distance migratory bird species that have high mobility are
expected to suffer fewer extinctions from climate change than sed-
entary species (Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008). Higher mobility provides
migratory birds with a higher capacity to deal with global change
than sedentary (non-migratory) birds. Such sedentary species are
already 2.6 times more threatened with extinction than are long-
distance migratory bird species (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2007). Long-distance
migratory birds comprise less than a fifth of all the bird species
(Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2007), so if non-migratory species prove to be rela-
tively more threatened by climate change (Cox, 2010), this will af-
fect most of the world’s bird species. Based on 60 different scenarios
to estimate bird extinctions that will result from a combination of
climate change and habitat loss by the year 2100, Sßekerciog
˘lu
et al. (2008) showed that sedentary birds are five times more likely
to go extinct in the 21st century than are long-distance migrants.
However, some migratory bird species are also highly vulnera-
ble to climate change. Many migratory birds spend most of the
year on their wintering grounds in the tropics. Migratory birds that
winter in the tropics have their own unique challenges, as they are
exposed to the multiple effects of climate change on their breeding
grounds, wintering grounds, and during their migrations (Ahola
et al., 2007; Both et al., 2006; Huntley et al., 2006). Climate change
may result in range reductions at both ends of the journeys of some
migratory species such as lesser whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) and
garden warbler (Sylvia borin) (Doswald et al., 2009). Climate
change could also render key stopover sites unsuitable, and extend
the overall migratory journey of some birds (Huntley et al., 2006).
Breeding bird surveys showed that while sedentary bird species
and short-distance migrants in Denmark increased since 1974,
numbers of long-distance trans-Saharan migrants declined 1.3%
per year (Heldbjerg and Fox, 2008).
An estimated 2.1 billion birds migrate every year between Eur-
ope and Africa alone (Hahn et al., 2009). Shifts and reductions in
the wintering ranges of migratory birds may have impacts on trop-
ical bird communities as well. Barbet-Massin et al. (2009) project
that by 2100, climate change could cause the ranges of 37 of 64
8Ç.H. Sßekerciog
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trans-Saharan migrants (e.g. collared flycatcher, Ficedula albicollis
and thrush nightingale, Luscinia luscinia) to shrink, as well as shift
by an average 500 km. This could result in major decreases in the
richness of bird communities in Africa (Barbet-Massin et al., 2009).
If migratory birds experience increasingly severe food shortages
on their wintering grounds due to reduced rainfall, this could affect
non-breeding performance and influence their time of departure for
their breeding grounds (Studds and Marra, 2007). Changes in
tropical wintering habitats also create a disadvantage for migrants’
subsequent performance on their breeding grounds. Female Amer-
ican redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) wintering in high-quality habitat
produce more young and fledge offspring weeks earlier than
females from poor-quality wintering habitat (Norris et al., 2004).
Some migratory birds that are unable to synchronize their migra-
tory timing with climate change driven shifts in phenology already
demonstrate negative consequences (Ahola et al., 2007; Both et al.,
2006). Birds already adapted to environments with unpredictable
climates are also likely to better tolerate climate change (Canale
et al., 2010). This includes nomadic birds that can move large
distances when faced with droughts, floods, and other extreme
weather events.
5. Interspecific interactions and indirect effects
Most models of climate change effects on future species distri-
butions do not take into consideration interactions between spe-
cies because data regarding such interactions are limited.
However, changes in biotic associations can be as important as
changes in temperature and precipitation, if not more so (Dunn
et al., 2009; Jankowski et al., 2010).
Preston et al. (2008) showed that including biotic associations in
climate change models reduced habitat availability for endangered
California plant, butterfly, and bird species by 68–100%, as opposed
to a climate-only model. The potential habitat of the threatened
coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica), a
habitat specialist restricted to semi-arid coastal scrublands in
California and Mexico, would be greatly reduced under a warmer
climate, compared to models that considered climate only, without
accounting for this kind of biotic factor (Preston et al., 2008). They
indicated that incorporating biotic interactions in climate models is
especially important for habitat specialists and species strongly
dependent on other species. Such traits typify tropical bird commu-
nities. Between-species interactions, mostly unknown to ecologists,
will influence how climate change affects tropical birds.
Indirect effects of climate change that act via interspecific inter-
actions have been little studied, but can be surprising and substan-
tial. The insights garnered from findings of species-poor temperate
studies do not bode well for tropical bird communities with more
species, more interactions, and more possibilities for the interac-
tions to go wrong. Climate-induced changes in the temporal parti-
tioning of the breeding period can lead to changes in interspecific
competition that have fatal consequences (Ahola et al., 2007). For
example, the closer pied flycatchers breed in time to their seden-
tary competitor, the great tit (Parus major), the more likely the fly-
catchers are to attempt to take over tit nests (Ahola et al., 2007).
These attempts can be fatal for flycatchers. Since climate change
affects breeding phenology, it could alter the balance of these com-
petitive interactions.
Similarly, in the tropical cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa
Rica, increased temperatures caused a reduction in dry season mist
frequency and in the lifting of the cloud base (Pounds et al., 1999).
This, in turn, has led to some lowland bird species expanding their
distributions upwards. In the same region, Jankowski et al. (2010)
showed that interspecific aggression was a critical factor in con-
straining the elevational ranges of forest songbirds. The high eleva-
tion specialist slaty-backed nightingale-thrush (Catharus fuscater)
was the most submissive of the species tested. This indicates that
the slaty-backed nightingale-thrush is likely to lose ground to
the more aggressive, lower elevation black-headed nightingale-
thrush (Catharus mexicanus) if the latter species expands to higher
elevations in response to the warming temperatures in the region
(Jankowski et al., 2010). An estimated one third of threatened trop-
ical mountain species have ranges that border with congeners that
are widespread, lower-elevation species (Jankowski et al., 2010).
One hypothesis holds that climate warming could permit lowland
tropical species, if they are relatively aggressive and therefore
dominate their upland congeners, to expand upslope, forcing sub-
ordinate higher-elevation species to retreat upslope in their
shrinking mountaintop ranges (Jankowski et al., 2010). However,
if a high-elevation species is dominant it may hold the upslope
shifts of competitors in check even as climates warm.
Novel inter-species interactions due to climate change are not
limited to birds. One of the most fascinating and unexpected exam-
ples of negative climate change impacts on songbirds has been
caused by edible dormice (Glis glis) in the Czech Republic (Adamik
and Kral, 2008). With increasing spring temperatures, the cavity-
nesting dormice are emerging earlier from winter hibernation.
However, only one of four cavity-nesting bird species in the region
advanced its breeding dates. This combination has led to high
brood losses caused by intensified nest predation by dormice,
whose populations have increased due to favorable weather com-
bined with good seed mast years. As Adamik and Kral (2008) point
out, ‘‘changes in climate might affect organisms at various trophic
levels with often unexpected outcomes. . . [and] ...species most at
risk are those at different trophic levels that do not shift at the
same rate or in the same direction as their food resources, preda-
tors or competitors’’. Populations of forest snakes, which are major
predators of tropical forest birds, nestlings and eggs, may increase
to the detriment of bird populations; however, this relationship
has not yet been explored by ecologists.
Effects of climate change on tropical seabirds have received lit-
tle attention, but changes in sea surface temperatures can reduce
marine prey availability for seabirds (Becker et al., 2007; Le Bohec
et al., 2008; Watanuki et al., 2009). Many seabird species have a
critical sea surface temperature threshold, above which (as often
is the case during El Niño years) the lack of prey leads to unsustain-
able chick mortality (Boersma, 1998; Erwin and Congdon, 2007). In
addition, age and sex-related variation in climatic influence on
demographic parameters of tropical seabirds (Oro et al., 2010)
can lead to different effects of climate change on different ages
and sexes of the same species. Reduced prey directly affects sea-
bird productivity (Cury et al., 2011), but it can also influence
impoverished island ecosystems, where seabird droppings (guano)
provide critical nutrient inputs to these ecosystems (Croll et al.,
2005; Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2006b). An interesting example of climate
change-induced interactions affecting a tropical bird community
comes from seabird nesting islands near the Great Barrier Reef of
Australia. A decrease in seabird prey due to an increase in sea-sur-
face temperatures has also meant a reduction in seabirds, in their
guano, and in the resulting nutrient input for plants on seabird
nesting islands (Greenslade, 2008). With fewer nutrients, native
Pisonia trees become more susceptible to outbreaks of a sap-feed-
ing herbivore and its attendant ant (Greenslade, 2008). In turn, the
loss of Pisonia trees reduces important nesting sites for seabirds
like black noddies (Anous minutus) and wedge-tailed shearwaters
(Puffinus pacificus), illustrating the complicated web of interactions
through which climate change effects reverberate.
5.1. Ecosystem functions and services
As the above example illustrates, tropical bird species not only
interact with one another, but also provide key ecosystem functions
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18 9
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and services by interacting with other organisms such as seed dis-
persers, pollinators, predators, nutrient dispersers, scavengers, and
ecosystem engineers (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2006a; Wenny et al., 2011).
Avian ecological functions and ecosystem services are important
in many tropical communities, but the influence of climate change
on these services is little understood. Bird pollination is more
important in the tropics than in the temperate zone, except in
Australia, where bird pollination peaks in the temperate regions
(Ford, 1985). Although bird pollination has often been considered
relatively unimportant in comparison to insect pollination, climate
change may increase its importance. This is exemplified by some
Caribbean islands, where bird pollination increased with higher
rainfall, while insect pollination decreased (Gonzalez et al., 2009).
Ecosystem functions and services become even more important
with the increasing variability climate change brings. Mazia et al.
(2009) showed that during the wet year of an ENSO cycle, exclud-
ing insectivorous birds such as thorn-tailed rayaditos (Aphrastura
spinicauda) and white-crested elaenias (Elaenia albiceps) from tree
saplings in an Argentinean Nothofagus forest resulted in twice as
much leaf damage by insects as was observed during a drought
year. These results indicate that large-scale climatic events can
influence the strength of trophic cascades, but our understanding
of such variable effects on ecosystem function, especially in the
tropics, is limited (Van Bael et al., 2004).
6. Destructive synergies: climate change exacerbates other
environmental stressors
Climate change is expected to physiologically stress organisms
and force species and entire communities to shift their distributions.
Yet climate change will also affect biodiversity by synergistically
interacting with, and often exacerbating, other environmental
stressors such as habitat loss, emerging diseases, invasive species,
hunting, or pollution (Brook et al., 2008; Laurance and Useche,
2009; Reino et al., 2009). However, these synergies are often over-
looked in climate change research. One review found that about half
of the papers in climate change literature considered climate change
separately from other threatening processes (Felton et al., 2009).
Tropical birds seem to be particularly vulnerable to the synergisms
between climate change and hunting, and between climate change
and habitat loss in the form of agriculture (Laurance and Useche,
2009). Nevertheless, remaining uncertainties about temperature
and precipitation projections for the tropics (Vera et al., 2006) and
the responses of tropical forests to changes in CO
2
, temperature,
and rainfall (Feeley et al., 2007; Laurance and Useche, 2009; Phillips
et al., 1998) limit our ability to predict future synergies.
6.1. Habitat loss
Extensive habitat loss in the tropics will continue to interact
with and exacerbate the effects of climate change on tropical birds,
especially endemic and range-restricted species (Jetz et al., 2007;
Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008). Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. (2008) quantified the
relative impact of habitat loss on bird extinctions caused by cli-
mate change by combining IPCC, 2007 climate change scenarios
(IPCC, 2007) with Millennium Ecosystem Assessment habitat loss
scenarios (MA, 2005). In the ‘‘worst case’’ surface warming esti-
mate of 6.4 °C by 2100, (which may yet be an underestimate
(Stainforth et al., 2005)), Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. (2008) estimated that
the worst case habitat loss estimates in the ‘‘Order from Strength’’
scenario (MA, 2005) could result in over 2500 land bird extinctions
and could increase bird extinctions from climate change by about
50% when compared with the best-case estimates from the ‘‘Adap-
tive Mosaic’’ scenario (Fig. 5). Furthermore, the authors showed the
sensitivity of bird extinctions to the combined effects of climate
change and habitat loss to be quadratic. This means that
extinctions increase faster than would be expected from a one-
to-one relationship with surface warming. With increasing
amounts of baseline warming and habitat loss, each additional °C
of surface warming is expected to result in more bird extinctions,
ranging from approximately 100 to 500 additional extinctions
(Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008). The number of extinctions rapidly in-
crease past 1.8 °C of surface warming, as do the additional extinc-
tions from the climate change-habitat loss interaction effect. This
emphasizes the critical importance of restraining global warming
to less than 2 °C by 2100. However, an analysis of the most recent
emissions pledges during the December 2011 international cli-
mate-change negotiations in Durban indicates that the world is
headed for 3.5 °C of warming by the year 2100 (Tollefson, 2011).
Warming of 3.5 °C could result in 600–900 of nearly 8500 land bird
species worldwide being committed to extinction (Sßekerciog
˘lu
et al., 2008;Fig. 5), in the absence of any conservation action.
87% of all bird species and 89% of all land bird species occur in
the tropics (Çag
˘an H. Sßekerciog
˘lu, unpublished data).
Vegetation also displays a non-linear sensitivity to lapse rate.
Lapse rates are lower in the tropics, especially in more humid
areas, and this implies that tropical forests will be forced to shift
further than temperate forests for every °C of surface warming
(Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008). However, most models of climate change
effects on community shifts are based on data from temperate
ecosystems (e.g. Chen et al., 2011), where lapse rates tend to be
higher.
6.2. Hunting
Other factors, such as hunting, also interact with climate change
and exacerbate its effects on tropical bird populations. Traill et al.
(2009, 2010) developed one of the few spatially explicit population
viability models for a tropical waterfowl species, the magpie goose
(Anseranas semipalmata), to simulate population responses to the
synergy of hunting, climate change, and increased diseaseprevalence
due to climate change. Without hunting, the simulated disease
outbreaks (Traill et al., 2009) or wetland loss due to sea level rise
0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios
Surface warming estimates
1.1°C 1.8°C 2.8°C 4.0°C 6.4°C
Estimated landbrid extinctions by 2100
AM
TG
GO
OS
AM
TG
GO
OS
AM
TG
GO
OS
AM
TG
GO
OS
AM
TG
GO
OS
Fig. 5. Number of world landbird species projected to be committed to extinction
by 2100 on the basis of the estimates of various surface-warming estimates (IPCC,
2007), three possible shifts in lower elevational limit, and Millennium Assessment
habitat-change scenarios (MA, 2005; AM, adaptive mosaic; GO, global orchestra-
tion; OS, order from strength; TG, technogarden). Bars show the results of an
intermediate amount of elevational shift, where lower limits of 50% of lowland
(6500 m) bird species are assumed to move up in response to surface warming.
‘‘Error bars’’ indicate best-case (0% move up) or worst-case (100% move up) climate
warming scenarios. Reprinted with permission from Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. (2008).
Climate change, elevational range shifts, and bird extinctions. Conservation Biology
22, 140–150.
10 Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18
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(Traill et al., 2010), even when they increased due to climate change,
rarely threatened meta-population viability, and only when there
was high mortality and regular disease outbreaks. With current hunt-
ing pressure, however, the population response switched from a
threshold response to a linear one, and the threat to meta-population
viability from a disease outbreak or wetland loss increased signifi-
cantly. It is necessary to consider the synergies of climatechange with
various factors simultaneously, rather than in isolation.
6.3. Invasive species
While climate change poses a crisis for many specialized tropi-
cal bird species, it presents opportunities to other, more invasive
species that will expand their ranges into more temperate regions
(Reino et al., 2009). The expansion of invasive species will result in
new communities and ecological interactions with consequences
that are often hard to predict, but are likely to be negative for some
species. For example, rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), are
highly social and could aggressively compete for food and nesting
cavities with other birds (Pithon and Dytham, 2002). Further
expansion of their distributions in Europe could come at the ex-
pense of other native cavity-nesting species (Leech and Crick,
2007). Other tropical and subtropical bird species that are either
introduced by people or expand their ranges naturally are becom-
ing established in new localities, where native birds now have to
compete with them (Bohning-Gaese and Lemoine, 2004).
6.4. Emerging diseases and shifting disease vectors
Increases in the prevalence of infectious diseases provide some
of the most important examples of a destructive synergy with cli-
mate change effects. Changes in temperature, humidity and precip-
itation will affect many pathogens, and climate warming is likely
to ‘‘...increase pathogen development and survival rates, disease
transmission, and host susceptibility. . . [Most] host-parasite sys-
tems are predicted to experience more frequent or severe disease
impacts with warming’’ (Harvell et al., 2002). Some recent exam-
ples from the tropics include the expansion of avian malaria with
increasing temperature (Williams, 2010) and climate change
(Garamszegi, 2011), Plasmodium (malaria) and Trypanosoma avian
blood parasites being linked to temperature and rainfall (Sehgal
et al., 2011), and a rise in coral diseases (Harvell et al., 2002). An
expansion of malaria-carrying mosquitoes into Hawaiian highland
forests could threaten many Hawaiian endemic bird species (e.g.
the rare and declining akiapolaau, Hemignathus munroi, endemic
to the island of Hawaii). Native birds of the Hawaiian Islands had
no experience with malaria or mosquitoes before they were intro-
duced to the islands in the nineteenth century (Freed et al., 2005).
With increasing warming, the elevational distributions of the 13 °C
isotherm (above which malaria does not occur) and the 17 °C iso-
therm (below which malaria is year-round and high-risk) are ex-
pected to move upslope (Atkinson and LaPointe, 2009). This is
expected to greatly reduce the disease-free refugia in high-eleva-
tion forest habitat (by up to 96%), where malaria is low-risk or is
found only seasonally (Atkinson and LaPointe, 2009). As avian ma-
laria is found throughout the world, similar climate-related in-
creases in disease prevalence among tropical birds (such as
montane endemics) will be widespread, and will be most threaten-
ing to species with little or no evolutionary experience of various
parasites. However, there are few long-term studies on the subject.
7. Seasonality and variability
The stereotypical view of tropical bird life history has been that
of a lack of seasonality compared to that of temperate birds.
However, detailed and long-term studies are revealing that many
species, such as Panama’s spotted antbirds (Hylophylax naevioides),
experience seasonality due to wet-dry season cycles (Tye, 1992;
Wikelski et al., 2003, 2000). One of the few known examples of
tropical birds’ phenological responses to climate variation comes
from Cameroon, where individual bird species switch from breed-
ing in the wet season in the lowlands to breeding in the dry season
in the highlands (e.g. little greenbul, Andropadus virens and African
thrush, Turdus pelios). This observation suggests the types of re-
sponses possible under climate change (Tye, 1992).
In mountains, heavy rainfall, high humidity, and low tempera-
tures during the wet season often prevent birds from breeding,
including species that are more typical of the drier and hotter low-
lands, where they normally prefer to breed in the wet season (Tye,
1992). It is likely that many tropical bird species will shift their
breeding periods in response to changes in temperature and rain-
fall regimes. If climate change results in a mismatch between a
critical reproductive cue such as the photoperiod (Wikelski et al.,
2000) and the optimal temperature and rainfall regime for repro-
ductive success, population declines may be the result. Changes
in the frequency and severity of tropical storms also have impor-
tant implications for the ecology and conservation of tropical birds
(Boyle et al., 2010).
Research on the effects of climate change has almost entirely fo-
cused on the changes in average temperature, and to a lesser extent,
in rainfall. However, changes in weather events (Reside et al., 2010)
and seasonality can be equally important, particularly in the tropics,
where seasonality is less pronounced than in the temperate zone
and where organisms are adapted to fewer climatic fluctuations
and extremes. Nevertheless, some tropical forests may be able to
adapt to changes in seasonality better than temperate forests be-
cause the relative unpredictability of seasonality in the tropics
may have selected for more flexible responses to seasonality (Corlett
and LaFrankie, 1998). Although temperatures show relatively little
variation in the tropics, rainfall shows some seasonality even in
the wettest tropical areas, and many tropical regions experience a
distinct dry season that results in periods of low food availability.
For birds and other animals, however, increases in rainfall sea-
sonality and consequent increases in resource bottlenecks are likely
to exacerbate the expected impacts of changes in temperature and
precipitation regimes (Williams and Middleton, 2008). This is par-
ticularly the case for extended dry periods when birds experience
a scarcity of food resources such as nectar, fruit, and insects. As many
tropical birds time their breeding with increased resource abun-
dance typical of the wet season (e.g. white-throated thrush, Turdus
assimilis), longer and less predictable dry seasons, droughts, and sea-
sonal asynchrony as a result of climate change can affect the migra-
tions and reproductive performance of tropical birds, lead to the
mistiming of life history events, and potentially result in population
declines (Corlett and LaFrankie, 1998; Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2010b; Williams
and Middleton, 2008). Greater climatic seasonality, especially of the
dry periods, is thought to be linked to lower bird densities in the bird
communities of Australia’s Wet Tropics rainforest (Williams and
Middleton, 2008), supporting the hypothesis that more climati-
cally-stable areas are more diverse (Pianka, 1966). Long-distance
migratory birds wintering in the tropics can also experience disad-
vantages, such as reduced body mass prior to migration, due to drier
conditions in wintering habitat (Smith et al., 2010).
A different challenge faces the Mauritius kestrel, Falco puncta-
tus. This formerly critically endangered island endemic breeds later
in wetter springs. Senpathi et al. (2011) found that spring rainfall is
now 60% more frequent in their study area than it was in 1962, and
for each extra day of rainfall, birds delayed breeding by half a day.
Later breeding has negative repercussions for Mauritius kestrel
nesting success, because it increases the breeding risks associated
with climate conditions later in the reproductive season: nests are
more likely to be flooded, exposing chicks to hypothermia; and
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18 11
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adults are more likely to face adverse hunting conditions due to
wet weather (Senpathi et al., 2011).
Because we have limited understanding of how changes in rain-
fall seasonality will effect tropical bird populations and species
richness of bird communities, more tropical studies are needed.
7.1. Extreme weather events
Global warming, by increasing the amount of energy and humid-
ity in the climate system, also increases climatic variability. This is
likely to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather
events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cold spells, ‘‘once-in-
a-century’’ storms and tropical cyclones (IPCC, 2011). Such extreme
weather events can be as destructive to plants and bird communi-
ties as higher average temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns,
if not more so. It may be possible for a bird species to cope with a
2°C change in average temperature, but if that results in an increase
in extreme weather events that destroy critical habitat or make for-
aging impossible (Boyle et al., 2010), the species can decline to-
wards extinction (Martinez-Morales et al., 2009). The balance of
evidence points to increases in the numbers of intense tropical cy-
clones (though tropical cyclone frequency could decrease overall).
This would predominantly affect tropical bird communities, espe-
cially species living in coastal and island habitats (Lee et al., 2008;
Martinez-Morales et al., 2009; Safford and Jones, 1998), like the
Cozumel thrasher (Toxostoma guttatum). Furthermore, habitats
damaged by tropical cyclones may be very slow to recover if their
regeneration depends on seed dispersal by birds (Hjerpe et al.,
2001). At present, few population models account for the adverse
effects of more frequent or intense extreme weather events.
El Niño and La Niña cycles can have particularly dramatic ef-
fects on tropical forest birds, depending on the extent and severity
of aseasonal rainfall and droughts that result from these inter-an-
nual patterns of climate variation (Jaksic, 2004). Some tropical
birds, especially granivores and insectivores, can respond rapidly
to the effects of El Niño-driven rainfall changes, including increases
in plant and insect productivity. For example, on the Galapagos Is-
lands, land birds thrive during El Niño years while seabird breeding
success plummets. Long-term studies are needed to understand
how these responses affect bird population cycles (Jaksic, 2004).
Fires are also extreme climate-related events with major reper-
cussions for wild bird populations. Fire frequency and area burned
is expected to increase in many world regions, both as a result of
climate change and human alteration of habitat. One study of trop-
ical savannah species in northern Australia indicated that an in-
crease in fire frequency late in the dry season would have a
negative effect via decreases in predicted ranges of almost all bird
species (98% of those studied) restricted to this habitat (Reside
et al., 2012). In Papua New Guinea, a 2007 research expedition also
documented the vulnerability to fire of the Papuan harrier (Circus
spilothorax), which breeds in damp grassland and floodplains at
the start of the dry season. Two of the first nests ever recorded
were consumed by fire within five weeks of their discovery. In re-
sponse to the risk of higher fire frequency on Papua New Guinea
under climate change, it has been proposed that these harriers be
listed as vulnerable (Simmons and Legra, 2009). Tropical forest
fires are becoming larger, more frequent and severe, even in forests
where they were formerly infrequent (Cochrane, 2003).
8. Discussion
Change has been a feature of Earth’s climate throughout time.
However, although past climate change has often been of lesser
magnitude and speed, it has nevertheless resulted in major
upheavals in the planet’s ecosystems and dependent organisms
(Huntley et al., 2006). Even in the most rapid past episodes of
natural climate change during the transitions between glacial
and interglacial periods (Schneider, 1989), when some local tem-
peratures rose as much as 8 °C in a few decades (IPCC, 2007), the
average global temperature increased by about 5 °C over 5000–
7000 years (Huntley et al., 2006). The current rate of global
temperature increase is extremely rapid by comparison – one or
two orders of magnitude greater than that observed in the past.
The planet’s average temperature is expected to increase by
1.1–6.4 °C this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007). The potential role of little-known
or even unknown feedback loops makes the upper limit hard to
predict, and an average temperature increase of up to 11 °C may
be possible (Stainforth et al., 2005). Already, most tropical climates
are the warmest they have been in the past two million years
(Bush, 2002) and ‘‘. . .global climate is thus projected to be at least
as warm, by the end of the present century, as it has been at any
time during the evolution of most of the world’s present diversity
of organisms’’ (Huntley et al., 2006).
Some argue that species will simply adapt as they have done
during past episodes of climate change. This argument is unrealis-
tically optimistic not only because of the large magnitude and high
rate of global change, but also because species must now contend
with more than 7 billion human beings who consume most of the
planet’s resources and eliminate wildlife habitats. Human popula-
tion is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and this is expected to
lead to further land clearing (MA, 2005) and greenhouse gas emis-
sions (IPCC, 2007). This will further complicate other species’ abil-
ity to carry out range shifts, the response thought to have
dominated biodiversity’s reaction to past episodes of climatic
change (Huntley et al., 2007). Biodiversity is highest in the tropics,
but the numbers of subsistence and smallholder farmers are also
the greatest (Hannah et al., 2002). Although these people will be
highly exposed to climate change effects, their ability to cope will
be limited. Their efforts to adapt will lead to further clearance or
degradation of forests and other habitat (Easterling et al., 2007).
Although a recent meta-analysis has shown that in areas of
greatest warming average latitudinal shifts of species have been
generally adequate to track temperature changes (Chen et al.,
2011), due to the scarcity of suitable data, only 2 out of 22 studies
meta-analyzed were from the tropics (15 of 36 comparisons were
from a single UK study), and neither tropical study was on birds.
Compared to temperate species that often experience a wide range
of temperature on a yearly basis, tropical species, especially those
limited to tropical forests with stable climates, are less likely to
keep up with rapid climate change. Projected climate change will
lead to conditions unprecedented for millions of years, and as a re-
sult, bird species’ equator-ward limits (and likely their lower eleva-
tion limits) may retreat roughly in equilibrium with climate change,
whereas their pole-ward (and higher elevation) limits are likely to
lag behind (Huntley et al., 2006). Range expansion typically re-
quires the concomitant expansion of bird habitat, which generally
entails the range expansion of plants that may be long-lived and
slow to disperse. Range expansion of vegetation may be relatively
slow, even across suitable terrain not occupied by people. Together,
these factors indicate that habitat expansion to newly suitable
areas will not take place quickly enough to make up for habitat
losses due to climate change, especially for relatively sedentary
tropical forest species. Rapid range reductions will result, and equa-
torial populations with higher genetic diversity will be among the
first ones to go (Huntley et al., 2006; Sßekerciog
˘lu et al., 2008).
8.1. Future projections and models
Climate-based models of the geographic distributions of species
and vegetation are constantly improving, while achieving finer
resolution, improved representation of key processes, and more
12 Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18
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accurate depiction of oceanic circulation (Karnauskas et al., 2012).
However, relatively few climatic stations are available in the tropics,
and tropical climate models based on limited data can be a source of
uncertainty that may affect the outcomes of species distribution
models (Soria-Auza et al., 2010). The utility of such models also
hinges on good quality species distribution data. This is particularly
challenging when it comes to the often poorly-known distributions
of tropical species, some of which may be based on a handful of
points from specimens collected a century ago. Jetz et al. (2008b)
showed that the distributions of hundreds of bird species in rela-
tively well-known North America, South Africa, and Australia are
overestimates. Critically, the level of overestimation was higher
for threatened, range-restricted, and specialized birds – those most
vulnerable to global change. Therefore, detailed datasets with good
data on absence as well as presence is preferable (Huntley et al.,
2006). As a further challenge, many models confound occurrence
with the probability of detection. To address this, recently developed
occupancy models can use basic presence/absence survey data from
citizen science projects like bird atlases, while accounting for prob-
ability of detection (Altwegg et al., 2008). However, the kind of
detailed data provided by bird atlases usually requires hundreds
or thousands of dedicated, disciplined, knowledgeable, and well-
trained amateur and professional ornithologists – personnel not
available in most tropical countries (see below). In these cases, the
data from birdwatchers must be put to better use (Sßekerciog
˘lu,
2002;www.ebird.org;www.worldbirds.org).
Another concern is that static climate models may be inade-
quate for mapping future ranges. In fact, even dynamic models
may be inadequate in predicting species’ ranges, which are also
influenced by ecological processes such as species interactions,
adaptation, and flexibility in life history (Schwager et al., 2008).
Models need to do a better job in considering slowly-changing pro-
cesses and mechanisms (Schwager et al., 2008) and incorporating
species’ interactions.
Globally, species with restricted distributions are concentrated
in the tropics, and many of these species are already threatened
with extinction (Stattersfield et al., 1998). In birds, decreasing
range size due to habitat loss increases the likelihood of extinction
due to climate change (Schwartz et al., 2006). To make matters
worse, model fit also declines for species with smaller ranges,
resulting in high uncertainty in predicting climate change extinc-
tions in these species (Schwartz et al., 2006). Excluding these spe-
cies from conservation management plans could result in their
extinction. Conversely, mistakenly including species as threatened
when they are actually not could lead scarce conservation re-
sources to be squandered. Uncertainties like these apply even to
well-known bird species of eastern United States (Schwartz et al.,
2006), but the problems with predicting climate-change driven
extinctions for little-known tropical bird species are much greater.
Extensive range shifts and species turnover are expected under
climate change. Yet, substantially different model projections can
result, depending on both the climate and species distribution mod-
els selected (Bellard et al., 2012). Species turnover in response to
climate change, along with temperature and precipitation predic-
tions, remain subject to large uncertainties (Diniz et al., 2009; Vera
et al., 2006). Despite all the uncertainties involved, a recent compar-
ison of 130 observed and 188 predicted ecological responses to
climate change supported the predictions of high extinction risk
(MacLean and Wilson, 2011); the corrected mean extinction proba-
bility of 10% for the predictions was actually conservative compared
to the mean probability of 14% based on the empirical evidence.
8.2. The need for more tropical research
As is generally the case in ecology and conservation, the tem-
perate zone has been the focus of most studies of climate change
and most modeling exercises on the changes in species distribu-
tions. Fewer than 1% of the long-term climate change data sets
come from the tropics (Rosenzweig et al., 2008) and far more
tropical ornithological research is needed (Harris et al., 2011;
Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012). For example, the above-mentioned global over-
view of the shifts in species’ elevational and latitudinal limits
caused by climate change that included only Holarctic studies of
birds (in Europe and North America; Chen et al., 2011). Even
though most birds species are tropical (Tscharntke et al., 2008)
and sedentary (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2007), the lopsided concentration of
researchers and long-term datasets in the developed countries of
the temperate zone (Rosenzweig et al., 2008) have meant that
most of our understanding of climate change impacts on birds is
based on the studies of temperate birds that are largely migratory.
To comprehensively understand the implications of climate change
for avian ecology and bird conservation, many more long-term
studies of tropical bird communities are needed (Perry et al.,
2011), especially those that consider responses along elevational
gradients (e.g. Laurance et al., 2011; Pounds et al., 1999; Shoo
et al., 2005a). This necessitates increased funding to establish more
long-term, multi-site field research projects (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012).
Confronted with the relative scarcity of field studies on climate
change, ornithologists have found innovative ways to investigate
its effects (albeit mostly in temperate regions). They have analyzed
differences in bird distribution data in successive field guides (Peh,
2007), probed the notebooks of nineteenth-century amateur natu-
ralists (Primack et al., 2009; Willis et al., 2008), and amassed mil-
lions of data points collected by experienced birdwatchers who
volunteer for citizen science projects such as the US Breeding Bird
Survey (Niven et al., 2009), the European Breeding Bird Atlas
(Hagemeijer and Blair, 1997), and e-bird (www.ebird.org). How-
ever, amateur interest in birds is less prevalent in tropical coun-
tries. These nations are largely characterized by developing
economies and less educated populations more concerned with
survival than with birdwatching. Nevertheless, the appeal of birds
is universal, interest in birds is growing in developing, tropical
countries (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012), and birdwatching can also become
a means towards a sustainable livelihood (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2002). Gi-
ven sufficient opportunity and motivation, people in tropical coun-
tries are likely to appreciate birds and rapidly learn to identify
them (Paaby et al., 1991). Because most tropical households have
low income thresholds, limited funds for research and monitoring
can go a long way (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012). Field guides make bird iden-
tification accessible to most of the world’s population. The bird-
watching tourism market is also global; if people of tropical
countries are provided with ornithological training, this can lead
to careers that combine bird guiding and scientific data collection.
In this way, locally based, long-term bird monitoring programs in
the tropics could combine biodiversity monitoring, environmental
education, raising local awareness, community-based conserva-
tion, and ecotourism development (Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012). Such pro-
grams can be successful and cost-effective tools for job creation
and poverty reduction in many developing countries.
8.3. The value of protected areas for tropical birds: planning for future
change
We urgently need to understand how climate change will affect
the capacity of protected areas to harbor species and communities
(Willis et al., 2009). Especially in areas prone to drought, climatic
extremes reduce food availability – and consequently, breeding
success – and can therefore lead to widespread bird population de-
clines even in large reserves (Mac Nally et al., 2009). By contrast,
higher, cooler climatic refugia on tropical mountains are dispro-
portionately important for restricted range species, and steep
mountains, where human activity is limited, are often afforded
Ç.H. Sßekerciog
˘lu et al. / Biological Conservation 148 (2012) 1–18 13
Author's personal copy
protection from human disturbance. For example, in the Wet
Tropics of Queensland, the coolest part of the rainforest harbors
45% of endemic species (Shoo et al., 2011). Such climatically
diverse tropical montane areas have buffered cold-adapted species
from extinction during past interglacial periods of unusually warm
global temperatures (Ohlemuller et al., 2008). However, climate
change will disproportionately affect the narrow climatic zones
that characterize these centers of species rarity. This will jeopar-
dize many restricted-range species (Ohlemuller et al., 2008), such
as the Mt. Apo sunbird (Aethopyga boltoni) in the Philippines or
the regal sunbird (Nectarinia regia) in East Africa (Fig. 3).
We must design networks of protected areas with climate
change in mind because this will be critical for conservation (Shoo
et al., 2010). The Important Bird Area (IBA) network of Africa in-
cludes 1230 sites essential for maintaining populations of priority
species (Hole et al., 2009). Climate-induced shifts in the distribu-
tions of the breeding birds of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to
result in 42% of IBAs showing >50% species turnover (Hole et al.,
2009). However, only 7 or 8 priority species’ preferred climatic
envelopes are projected to be entirely lost from the IBA network,
and about 90% of priority species should retain suitable climatic
space somewhere. Nonetheless, sophisticated conservation plans
will be fruitless unless they are applied effectively in collaboration
with local people and decision-makers. Equally, these plans will
rely on improvements to landscape connectivity and efforts that
make the human-dominated landscapes surrounding protected
areas more hospitable to bird populations.
8.4. Research and management
Our limited knowledge of climate change impacts hinders our
ability to measure, predict, and prepare for the growing effects of
climate change on tropical ecosystems and bird populations
(Laurance et al., 2011). Research is urgently needed in the follow-
ing four main areas: species ecology, climate change impacts on
species, range shifts, and management action (Miller-Rushing
et al., 2010).
To create effective conservation management plans, it is critical
to collect basic ecological data, such as range size, habitat needs,
important interactions, evolutionary biology, and climate sensitiv-
ity. This data collection must be prioritized and funded (Lankau
et al., 2011; Sßekerciog
˘lu, 2012). In addition, models that predict cli-
mate change impacts must be improved. More accurate models are
particularly important to project where different vegetation types
and their dependent organisms will move. This will help identify,
protect and (in some cases) allow for the purchase of areas where
species will shift, along with the habitat corridors that may enable
them to do so.
While conservation ecologists should increase their research on
tropical birds, conservation practitioners should use an adaptive
management framework to mitigate climate change effects on
tropical bird communities. Adaptive management will be critical
to reduce tropical bird extinctions from climate change. Managers
need to publish their findings regularly, so that the lessons learned
can be shared and used to improve conservation efforts. This is
critical to the success of the adaptive management framework,
comprising ‘‘the identification of management questions and goals,
implementing management practices, testing the effectiveness of
the practices, and re-evaluating and revising the practices’’ (Mill-
er-Rushing et al., 2010).
The first step is to identify and monitor the populations and
species at greatest risk from climate change. Long-term manage-
ment of the designated populations, species, and their habitats
must then follow, including new and expanded protected areas,
and corridors based on projections of their ranges. Where possible
and cost-effective, restoring lands degraded by climate change (or
other factors) in essential localities will bolster tropical bird popu-
lations and will buy time for birds to shift to more suitable areas.
Finally, for some highly sedentary tropical bird species threatened
with extinction, assisted migration may be necessary (Hewitt et al.,
2011). This case for capture and relocation of individuals to more
suitable localities may be particularly applicable to many tropical
forest understory species, birds on low tropical mountains, low-ly-
ing island specialists, and sedentary birds whose current and fu-
ture ranges are not connected.
Nevertheless, such efforts will be temporary fixes if we fail to
achieve immediate societal change to reduce consumption, to con-
trol the emissions of greenhouse gases, and to stop climate change,
in combination with having effective conservation areas that
enable organisms to shift in response to climate change that is
already happening. Otherwise, we face the prospect of an out-
of-control climate that will not only lead to enormous human suf-
fering, but will also trigger the extinction of countless organisms,
among which tropical birds will be but a fraction of the total.
Acknowledgements
We are grateful to Sean Anderson, Elizabeth Platt, Jason Socci,
Navjot S. Sodhi, and Tanya Williams for their help and comments
on this manuscript. ÇHSßthanks the Christensen Fund and the Uni-
versity of Utah for their support. RBP thanks the National Science
Foundation for support. This review was inspired by a chapter
ÇHSßwrote for the Conservation of Tropical Birds (Sodhi et al.,
2011). We dedicate this paper to the late Navjot S. Sodhi, a leading
tropical conservation biologist who inspired many and whose im-
pact on tropical conservation will be everlasting.
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... Study of avifaunal diversity is an essential ecological tool which acts as an important indicator to evaluate different habitats both qualitatively and quantitatively (Bilgrami, 1995). Unfortunately global diversity of birds is decreasing incessantly primarily due to anthropogenic disturbances (Rapoport, 1993) and climate change (Chen et al., 2011; Sekercioglu et al., 2012). No surprise that IUCN Red List of endangered birds has already recognized 1226 bird species as threatened globally and India with 88 threatened bird species is ranked at seventh position (BirdLife International 2010). ...
... Study of avifaunal diversity is an essential ecological tool which acts as an important indicator to evaluate different habitats both qualitatively and quantitatively (Bilgrami, 1995). Unfortunately global diversity of birds is decreasing incessantly primarily due to anthropogenic disturbances (Rapoport, 1993) and climate change (Chen et al., 2011; Sekercioglu et al., 2012). No surprise that IUCN Red List of endangered birds has already recognized 1226 bird species as threatened globally and India with 88 threatened bird species is ranked at seventh position (BirdLife International 2010). ...
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