Research Funded by Leon Levy Foundation Finds Climate Change Is Leading to Unpredictable Ecosystem Disruption for Migratory Birds
Ithaca, NY–Using data on 77 North American migratory bird species from the eBird citizen-science program, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say that, in as little as four decades, it may be very difficult to predict how climate change will affect migratory bird populations and the ecosystems they inhabit. Their conclusions are presented in a paper published in the journal Ecography.
“Climates have natural variation and we’re moving rapidly into territory where the magnitude of climate change will consistently exceed this variation,” says lead author and Cornell Lab researcher Frank La Sorte. “There will be no historic precedent for these new climates, and migratory bird populations will increasingly encounter ‘novel’ climatic conditions. The most likely outcome will be a period of ecological disruption as migratory birds and other species try to respond or adapt to these new conditions.”
Cornell Lab scientists generated new climate models incorporating multiple sources of data. This produced a timeline indicating when and where migratory bird populations are likely to be significantly affected by novel climates during each phase of their annual life cycles. It’s not that far off:
— Last 40 to 50 years of this century. During this period, migrants such as the Black-and-white Warbler, are likely to first experience novel climates on their tropical wintering grounds (regions south of Florida) and also during the late summer on their breeding grounds in the North American temperate zone (above the nation’s midsection).
— First 50 years of the next century. This is when novel climates are likely to emerge for birds that winter in the subtropics–the southern half of the U.S.
The study authors conclude that by the middle of the next century migratory bird populations will experience novel climates during all phases of their annual life cycles.