Climate change driving tropical birds to higher elevations

Dec 08, 2011

Tropical birds are moving to higher elevations because of climate change, but they may not be moving fast enough, according to a new study by Duke University researchers.

The study, published Thursday in the peer-reviewed online journal , finds that the birds aren't migrating as rapidly as scientists previously anticipated, based on recorded temperature increases.

The animals instead may be tracking changes in vegetation, which can only move slowly via .

"This is the first study to evaluate the effects of warming on the elevation ranges of tropical birds," said Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of conservation ecology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and a co-author of the study. "It provides new evidence of their response to warming, but also shows there is a delay in their response."

Evidence from temperate areas, such as North America and Europe, shows that many animal and plant species are adapting to by migrating northward, breeding earlier or flowering earlier in response to rising temperatures.

"However, our understanding of the response of tropical birds to warming is still poor," said German Forero-Medina, a Ph.D. student at Duke's Nicholas School who is lead author of the new study. "Moving to the north doesn't help them, because tropical temperatures do not change very much with latitude. So moving up to higher elevations is the only way to go, but there are few historical data that can serve as baselines for comparison over time."

What is going on with at higher altitudes is important, Forero-Medina said, because about half of all birds species live 3,500 feet or more above sea level, and of these species, more than 80 percent may live within the tropics.

In 2010, the authors of the new study and a team of biologists participated in an expedition to the summit of the remote Cerros del Sira mountains in central Peru – a place visited by only a few ornithologists on prior occasions. The complex topography, geology and climate of the mountains have produced isolated patches of habitat with unique avian communities and distinct taxa.

Forero-Medina and his colleagues used survey data collected on bird species in the region in the 1970s by John Terborgh, research professor emeritus at Duke, to compare past and present distributions.

"Using John Terborgh's groundbreaking data -- the first ever collected from this region --gave us a unique opportunity to understand the effects of 40 years of warming on ," Forero-Medina says.

The biologists found that although the ranges of many bird species have shifted uphill since Terborgh's time, the shifts fell short of what scientists had projected based on temperature increases over the four decades.

"This may be bad news," Pimm said. " may be damned if they move to to keep cool and then simply run out of habitat. But, by staying put, they may have more habitat but they may overheat."

Explore further: Call for alternative identification methods for endangered species

More information: "Elevational Ranges of Birds on a Tropical Montane Gradient Lag Behind Warming Temperatures" German Forero-Medina, John Terborgh, S. Jacob Socolar & Stuart L. Pimm. PLoS ONE, Dec. 7, 2011.

Related Stories

Stable temperatures boost biodiversity in tropical mountains

Jun 08, 2011

We often think of rainforests and coral reefs as hotspots for biodiversity, but mountains are treasure troves for species too -- especially in the tropics, scientists say. But what drives montane biodiversity? The diversity ...

A mountain bird's survival guide to climate change

Jun 08, 2010

Researchers at Yale University have found that the risk of extinction for mountain birds due to global warming is greatest for species that occupy a narrow range of altitude. In fact, a species' vertical distribution is a ...

Recommended for you

India's ancient mammals survived multiple pressures

12 hours ago

Most of the mammals that lived in India 200,000 years ago still roam the subcontinent today, in spite of two ice ages, a volcanic super-eruption and the arrival of people, a study reveals.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
2 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2011
Why call it "Climate Change"? Global Warming was such a panic inducer?

So, birds are going to higher elevation, eh? I wonder if the bird's ancestors went to lower elevation during the Maunder Minimum and higher elevations during the Medieval Climate OPTIMUM (when it was warmer than NOW, see definition of optimum).

"The Polar Bears will be fine." - Freeman Dyson, smartest man never to win the Nobel, author, Data Synthesis Expert (boy does he know modeling) and climate scientist.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2011
Shootist. . .the terms differ vastly from each other. . .but Climate Change could mean either cooling or warming of the climate, which indicates that Nature is capricious, makes changes and don't give a damn what we think. . .LOL
Whereas, Climate WARMING limits the change from cool to a sustained warm that lasts indefinitely. The AGWites are playing it safe with the term, Climate CHANGE. . .so that in the event that it gets cold, they can say that they didn't say "warming", only change.
It might be cooling, it might be warming. . .the world could freeze, the world could boil. . . . but the money will still have to be paid to poor countries to offset our CO2 footprint when the U.N. says so. Go figure.
THAT way, they can't get caught with their panties down if the climate starts to cool suddenly.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2011
What do you think the cc in IPCC stands for arb d boy?

Climate Change perhaps?

Oh god you are such a fool.

"Why call it "Climate Change"? Global Warming was such a panic inducer?" - Shootard

More news stories

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...