New paper shows how bird populations respond to climate warming

Recent research published online on October 9th 2019 in Climate Change examined the strength of the relationship between species-specific regional population changes and climate suitability trends, using 30-year datasets of population change for 525 breeding bird species in Europe and the USA. The data for European species were obtained from PECBMS.

The research was conducted by a team of experts including researchers and national coordinators of generic monitoring schemes from the PECBMS network. They showed a consistent positive relationship between population trend of bird species and climate suitability trends across the two continents.

The main outputs of the research were published by Prof. Richard Gregory in a comprehensible review in a science blog. As one of the most important findings Prof. Gregory recognises the fact, that there was found no evidence that the positive relationship differs between species expected to be negatively and positively impacted across the entire taxonomic group, suggesting that climate change is causing equally strong, quantifiable population increases and declines.

Species’ responses to changing climate also varied with ecological traits, particularly breeding habitat preference and body size; although in the latter case, patterns differed between Europe and the US for reasons that are unclear. Species associated with inland wetlands responded most strongly and consistently to recent climatic change. In Europe, smaller species also appeared to respond more strongly, whilst the relationship with body mass was less clear-cut for North American birds. This indicates that the impact may not always be consistent, even between continents.

Species breeding in the inland wetlands as Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) in Europe responded most strongly and consistently to climatic change, both in the USA and Europe.
Photo by Jan Grünwald

Prof. Gregory concludes: “The long-term consequences of climate warming on bird populations and their ranges remain uncertain and are an urgent priority for research like our own, that combines observational data with statistical modelling in different species groups.”


Read a science blog by Prof Richard Gregory, Head of Species Monitoring and Research, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, University College London.

Read the original article as ‘Online First‘.

Full reference: Mason LR Green RE Howard C Stephens PA Willis SG Aunins A Brotons L Chodkiewicz T Chylareck P Escandell V Foppen RPB Herrando S Husby M Jiguet F Kålås JA Lindstrom A Massimino D Moshøj C Nellis R Paquet J-Y Reif J Sirkiä PM Szép T Tellini Florenzano G Teufelbauer N Trautmann S van Strien A van Turnhout CAM Voříšek P & Gregory RD (2019) Population responses of bird populations to climate change on two continents vary with species’ ecological traits but not with direction of change in climate suitability. Climatic Change. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02549-9.