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 better predictor of extinction risk than the extent of temperature change they experience, the researchers report in the June 9 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

"Birds allow us to do the first global assessment of the health of a whole large chunk of biodiversity at high altitudes in the face of global warming," said Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and and co-author of the study along with colleague Frank La Sorte. "High-elevation species are essentially living on islands where every incremental increase in temperature is dramatically shrinking. Our global projections pinpoint hundreds of in peril and often with nowhere to go."

As temperatures warm, scientists have found that mountain species respond by shifting to higher and cooler elevations. La Sorte and Jetz estimated the vulnerability of mountain species to by looking at a variety of factors, including the birds' ability to move to higher elevations or to neighboring mountain systems.

The Yale team studied all one thousand species of birds living in high-elevation environments. The team then assessed how the distribution of these species across the mountain systems of the world coincided with projected temperature changes.

Under a scenario where the range of temperatures contract and species are unable to shift their ranges to higher elevations, the analysis showed that a full third of mountain bird species were severely threatened.

In a scenario where species have the option to shift their ranges to higher elevations, the number of mountain bird species threatened is halved, with species located on the tallest mountain systems receiving the greatest benefits.

While some species can move to neighboring mountains, bird species on isolated mountain systems were the most threatened.

The study highlights Africa, Australia, and North America as regions of particular concern for mountain biodiversity, where dispersal opportunities overall are the most limited.

Besides offering another call for action to prevent , La Sorte and Jetz said the study suggests that more effort should be placed on documenting species' vertical distributions and placing reserves in highland locations and along key elevational corridors to promote new habitat opportunities for species.

"Understanding the biological consequences of climate change is one of the most pressing scientific challenges of our day," La Sorte said. "This is particularly true for mountains and the species that inhabit them, which are considered to be especially susceptible to climate change."

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Land conversion and climate threaten land birds

Jun 05, 2007

Land conversion and climate change have already had significant impacts on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.Using future land-cover projections from the recently completed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Walter ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
So what happened to all these birds during the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods, both of which produced higher global temperatures than seen today?

Nothing?

Dang ol' globull warming. We'll grow Oranges in Alaska.

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...