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Keywords:

  • conservation;
  • global change;
  • global warming;
  • range expansion;
  • range shift;
  • re-distribution;
  • shorebird;
  • special protection area

Abstract

Detecting coherent signals of climate change is best achieved by conducting expansive, long-term studies. Here, using counts of waders (Charadrii) collected from ca. 3500 sites over 30 years and covering a major portion of western Europe, we present the largest-scale study to show that faunal abundance is influenced by climate in winter. We demonstrate that the ‘weighted centroids’ of populations of seven species of wader occurring in internationally important numbers have undergone substantial shifts of up to 115 km, generally in a northeasterly direction. To our knowledge, this shift is greater than that recorded in any other study, but closer to what would be expected as a result of the spatial distribution of ecological zones. We establish that year-to-year changes in site abundance have been positively correlated with concurrent changes in temperature, but that this relationship is most marked towards the colder extremities of the birds' range, suggesting that shifts have occurred as a result of range expansion and that responses to climate change are temperature dependent. Many attempts to model the future impacts of climate change on the distribution of organisms, assume uniform responses or shifts throughout a species' range or with temperature, but our results suggest that this may not be a valid approach. We propose that, with warming temperatures, hitherto unsuitable sites in northeastern Europe will host increasingly important wader numbers, but that this may not be matched by declines elsewhere within the study area. The need to establish that such changes are occurring is accentuated by the statutory importance of this taxon in the designation of protected areas.