Birds tend to move in response to unfavorable climate

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Washington, September 15 (ANI): A new study by biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, has determined that if the climate is not quite right, birds will move rather than stick around and sweat it out.

The findings reveal that 48 out of 53 bird species studied in California's Sierra Nevada mountains have adjusted to climate change over the last century by moving to sites with the temperature and precipitation conditions they favored.

The few species, including the Anna's Hummingbird and Western Scrub-Jay, that did not pack up and leave when the climate changed were generally better able to exploit human-altered habitats, such as urban or suburban areas, the researchers said.

"In order to conserve biodiversity in the face of future climate change, we need to know how a species actually responds to a warming climate," said study lead author Morgan Tingley, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley.

"Comparing past and present ranges of species that experienced climate change is one of the best ways to gain this knowledge. Understanding how species will respond to climate change allows us to take steps now to restore key habitats and create movement corridors that will help them respond to the changes we have coming," he added.

The study includes data from a survey of 82 sites in the Sierra Nevada and details the changes in birds' geographic range over the course of a century.

On average, those sites have seen a 1.4 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature and nearly a quarter of an inch more rainfall during the breeding season since the early 1900s.

While individual species responded differently to environmental change, these idiosyncratic responses were successfully predicted for the majority of species by standard models that scientists employ to forecast the impact of climate change.

The researchers focused on abundant bird species whose range was restricted to the western United States.

"This study shows the assumptions that underlie existing forecasts of how species will respond to climate change are valid, at least for most bird species in the mountains of California," said study co-author and conservation biologist Steve Beissinger, UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management.

"This is alarming because forecasts suggest many species will go extinct with the climate warming that we expect to occur, but it also gives us confidence that costly conservation investments made now based on climate forecasts will have a valuable payoff in the future," he added. (ANI)

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