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Rapid climate driven shifts in wintering distributions of three common waterbird species

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Abstract

Climate change is predicted to cause changes in species distributions and several studies report margin range shifts in some species. However, the reported changes rarely concern a species' entire distribution and are not always linked to climate change. Here, we demonstrate strong north-eastwards shifts in the centres of gravity of the entire wintering range of three common waterbird species along the North-West Europe flyway during the past three decades. These shifts correlate with an increase of 3.8 °C in early winter temperature in the north-eastern part of the wintering areas, where bird abundance increased exponentially, corresponding with decreases in abundance at the south-western margin of the wintering ranges. This confirms the need to re-evaluate conservation site safeguard networks and associated biodiversity monitoring along the flyway, as new important wintering areas are established further north and east, and highlights the general urgency of conservation planning in a changing world. Range shifts in wintering waterbirds may also affect hunting pressure, which may alter bag sizes and lead to population-level consequences.

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