Climate change affecting Europe´s birds now say researchers

Climate change is already having a detectable impact on birds across Europe, say a group of scientists publishing their findings to create the world's first indicator of the climate change impacts on wildlife at a continental scale.

Published in the journal PloS ONE, scientists have shown a strong link between observed population change of individual species and the projected range change, associated with climate change, among a number of widespread and common European birds.

By pulling all the data together the team led by EBCC have been able to compile an indicator showing how climate change is affecting wildlife across Europe. The European Union is considering the indicator as an official measure of the impacts of climate change on the continent's wildlife, the first indicator of its kind.

The Climate Change Indicator (Fig. 1) combines two independent strands of work; bioclimate envelope-modelling and observed populations trends in European birds, derived from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme.

Figure 1: The Climate Change Indicator.
When a bird's population changes in line with the projection, the indicator goes up. Species whose observed trend doesn't fit the projection cause the indicator to decline.

The analysis drew on PECBMS data shows that species whose ranges are predicted to increase as a result of climate change have indeed increased in numbers (Fig. 2); while the opposite appears to be the case for species predicted to loose their ranges due to climate change (Fig. 3).

Of the 122 species included in the study (out of 526 species which nest in Europe), 30 are projected to increase their range; while the remaining 92 species are anticipated to decrease their range.

Figure 2: Species predicted to gain range in response to climatic change
(30 species).

Figure 3: Species predicted to lose range in response to climatic change
(92 species).

The notable fact is that the number of species that are predicted to decrease their range in response to climate change is 3 times higher than those expected to gain their range.

The research also shows what species are projected to increase and decrease their populations across Europe. Of the 122 species that were surveyed, the top ten increasing species and the top ten worst performers across Europe are ordered in the table below.

Top 10 increasing speciesTop 10 declining species
Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Subalpine warbler (Sylvia cantillans)Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
Cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus)Willow tit (Parus montanus)
Cetti's warbler (Cettia cetti)Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)Thrush nightingale (Luscinia luscinia)
Golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus)Wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
Great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor)

The paper and the indicator were produced by a team of scientists from the RSPB, Durham University, Cambridge University, the European Bird Census Council, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, the Czech Society for Ornithology, and Statistics Netherlands.

The RSPB's Dr Richard Gregory was the paper's lead author. Commenting on the findings he said: "We hear a lot about climate change, but our paper shows that its effects are being felt right now. The results show the number of species being badly affected outnumbers the species that might benefit by three to one. Although we have only had a very small actual rise in global average temperature, it is staggering to realise how much change we are noticing in wildlife populations. If we don't take our foot off the gas now, our indicator shows there will be many much worse effects to come. We must keep global temperature rise below the 2 degree ceiling; anything above this will create global havoc."

The paper co-author, Dr Stephen Willis, of Durham University, said: "Our indicator is the biodiversity equivalent of the FTSE index, only instead of summarising the changing fortunes of businesses, it summarises how biodiversity is changing due to climate change. Unlike the FTSE, which is currently at a six year low, the climate change index has been increasing each year since the mid-80s, indicating that climate is having an increasing impact on biodiversity."

"Those birds we predict should fare well under climate change have been increasing since the mid-80s, and those we predict should do badly have declined over the same period. The worry is that the declining group actually consist of 75 per cent of the species we studied."

Dr Gregory added: "This new work emphasises again the role played by skilled amateur birdwatchers right across Europe in advancing our understanding of the environment and the growing threat posed by climate change."

Full reference to the paper: Richard D. Gregory, Stephen G. Willis, Frédéric Jiguet, Petr Voříąek, Alena Klvaňová, Arco van Strien, Brian Huntley, Yvonne C. Collingham, Denis Couvet, Rhys E. Green (2009): An Indicator of the Impact of Climatic Change on European Bird Populations. PLoS ONE 4(3): e4678. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004678

Link to PloS ONE

For further information, please contact:

Dr Richard Gregory, Chairman, European Bird Census Council, & Head of Species Monitoring and Research, RSPB: +44 (0)1767 693049, richard.gregory at

Editor's notes:

1) The Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) a system for harmonised data collection.
The Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) is a partnership involving the European Bird Census Council (EBCC), the RSPB, BirdLife International, and Statistics Netherlands. The PECBMS aims to deliver policy relevant biodiversity indicators to decision makers in Europe. It collates national data in a harmonised way on bird trends from a network of expert ornithologists from over twenty European countries. The project aims to improve the scientific standard of bird monitoring by fostering co-operation and the sharing of best practice and expertise. Website:
The PECBMS is funded by the RSPB and the European Commission.

2) The European Bird Census Council (EBCC) is an association of like-minded expert ornithologists co-operating in various ways to improve bird monitoring and atlas work in Europe, and thereby inform and improve the management and conservation of bird populations. It aims to promote exchange of news, ideas and expertise through a journal and a programme of workshops and conferences. It works closely with ornithological and conservation organisations, and encourages links between ornithologists, land managers and policy makers. The EBCC oversees specialist working groups and European monitoring projects; these have included The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds (1997), and currently the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme. Website:

3) Special thanks to the EBCC network and the volunteer counters.
Thanks go to the many individuals and organisations responsible for national data collation for 'The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds' and the PECBMS, upon which this work is based. We would like to express special thanks to the many thousands of skilled volunteer counters across Europe who are responsible for data collection.
Thanks also to: Norbert Teufelbauer, Michael Dvorak, Christian Vansteenwegen, Anne Weiserbs, Jean-Paul Jacob, Anny Anselin, Thierry Kinet, Antoine Derouaux, Jiří Reif, Karel ©ťastný, Henning Heldbjerg, Michael Grell, Andres Kuresoo, Risto Väisänen, Frederic Jiguet, Johannes Schwarz, Martin Flade, Tibor Szép, Olivia Crowe, Lorenzo Fornasari, Elisabetta de Carli, Ainars Aunins, Ruud Foppen, Magne Husby, Przemek Chylarecki, Dagmara Jawinska, Geoff Hilton, Juan Carlos del Moral, Ramón Martí, Virginia Escandell, Åke Lindström, Sören Svensson, Hans Schmid, Andrew Joys, David Noble, Mike Raven, and Andrew Joys.
We also thank Adriaan Gmelig Meyling, Ian Burfield, Ruud Foppen, David Noble, Zoltan Waliczky, Lukáą Viktora, Lucie Hoąková, Norbert Schäffer, Adrian Oates, David Gibbons, Jose Tavares, Henk Sierdsema, Sergi Herrando, Dominique Richard, Grégoire Lois, Pierre Nadin, Laure Ledoux, and Anne Teller for valuable support.


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