Arid savannas are regarded as one of the ecosystems most likely to be affected by climate change. In these dry conditions, even top predators like raptors are affected by water availability and precipitation. However, few research initiatives have addressed the question of how climate change will affect population dynamics and extinction risk of particular species in arid ecosystems. Here, we use an individual-oriented modeling approach to conduct experiments on the population dynamics of long lived raptors. We investigate the potential impact of precipitation variation caused by climate change on raptors in arid savanna using the tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) in the southern Kalahari as a case study.
We simulated various modifications of precipitation scenarios predicted for climate change, such as lowered annual precipitation mean, increased inter-annual variation and increased auto-correlation in precipitation. We found a high impact of these modifications on extinction risk of tawny eagles, with reduced population persistence in most cases. Decreased mean annual precipitation and increased inter-annual variation both caused dramatic decreases in population persistence. Increased auto-correlation in precipitation led only to slightly accelerated extinction of simulated populations. Finally, for various patterns of periodically fluctuating precipitation, we found both increased and decreased population persistence. In summary, our results suggest that the impacts on raptor population dynamics and survival caused by climate change in arid savannas will be great. We emphasize that even if under climate change the mean annual precipitation remains constant but the inter-annual variation increases the persistence of raptor populations in arid savannas will decrease considerably. This suggests a new dimension of climate change driven impacts on population persistence and consequently on biodiversity. However, more investigations on particular species and/or species groups are needed to increase our understanding of how climate change will impact population dynamics and how this will influence species diversity and biodiversity.