Birds threatened with extinction due to rapid effects of climate change

Climate change is advancing at such a rapid rate that several common species of bird, including the magpie, are not able to adapt fast enough in response, threatening them with extinction.

These were the findings of a University of Leeds-based study published in Nature Communications which looked at more than 10,000 scientific studies to determine the threat to various species’ existence.

They found that although animals do commonly respond to climate change, their responses are in general ‘insufficient’ to cope with the rapid pace of rising temperatures.

They also found that in some instances species’ responses were found to lower their ability to survive.

Researchers took information from scientific literature to relate changes in climate over the years to possible changes in phenological and morphological traits.

They then evaluated whether observed trait changes were associated with higher survival or an increased number of offspring.

Finally, they looked at published research covering over 1,400 different species. However, only 71 studies contained enough information to be included in their analysis.

Those 71 studies were almost entirely bird species, which are frequently used as indicators of the wider ecological community.

Although some of the bird species were undergoing adaptive change in response to the climate, they were doing so at a pace that does not guarantee their survival, the research found.

The data specifically looked at predominantly common and abundant species such as the great tit, the European pied flycatcher and the common magpie, which are known to cope with climate change relatively well.

Co-author Dr Christopher Hassall, from the University of Leeds’ School of Biology, said: ‘A great deal of environmental damage has been carried out under the assumption that the planet is able to absorb substantial amounts of human activity.

‘This study is among the first to explore the limits of what nature can cope with in the long term and the picture is not very positive.

‘Our results suggest that prolonged climate change is going to have serious negative consequences for many of the numerous species that are vital to the continuing function of the natural world.’

The scientists hope that their analysis and the assembled datasets will stimulate research on the resilience of animal populations in the face of climate change and contribute to better conservation management.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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