Diversity of birds in eastern North America shifts north with global warming



Ken McDonald, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, TN 38501. Tel: +(423)512-2720; Fax: +(931)528-7075; E-mail: kenneth_mcdonald@fws.gov


The distribution of diversity along latitudinal and elevation gradients, and the coupling of this phenomenon with climate, is a pattern long recognized in ecology. Hypothesizing that climate change may have altered this pattern over time, we investigated whether the aggregate of reported northward shifts of bird ranges in North America is now detectable in community-level indices such as richness and diversity. Here, we report that bird diversity in North America increased and shifted northward between 1966 and 2010. This change in the relationship of diversity to the latitudinal gradient is primarily influenced by range expansions of species that winter in the eastern United States as opposed to species which migrate to this area from wintering grounds in the tropics. This increase in diversity and its northward expansion is best explained by an increase in regional prebreeding season temperature over the past 44 years.