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Keywords:

  • bird atlas;
  • bird distributions;
  • climate change;
  • elevational shifts;
  • global warming;
  • information-theoretic;
  • latitudinal shifts;
  • New York State;
  • range shifts

Abstract

Like other regions of the northern hemisphere, the northeastern United States has experienced a general increase in regional temperatures over the past 20 years. Quantifying the ecological implications of these changing temperatures has been severely constrained by a lack of multispecies distributional data by which to compare long-term changes. We used the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, a statewide survey of 5332 25 km2 blocks surveyed in 1980–1985 and 2000–2005, to test several predictions that the birds of New York State are responding to climate change. Our objective was to use an information-theoretic approach to analyze changes in three geographic range characteristics, the center of occurrence, range boundaries, and states of occurrence to address several predictions that the birds of New York State are moving polewards and up in elevation. As expected, we found all bird species (n=129) included in this analysis showed an average northward range shift in their mean latitude of 3.58 km [Prob(Ha|data)=0.87)]. Past studies have found that northern range boundaries are more likely to be influenced by climatic factors than southern range boundaries. Consequently, we predicted that northward shifts would be more evident in northern as opposed to southern range boundaries. We found, however, that the southern range boundaries of northerly birds moved northward by 11.4 km [n=43, Prob(Ha|data)=0.92], but this pattern was less evident in northern range boundaries of southerly birds. In addition, we found that bird species demonstrated a general shift downhill in their mean elevation, but demonstrated little change in their elevational boundaries. The repeated pattern of a predicted northward shift in bird ranges in various geographic regions of the world provides compelling evidence that climate change is driving range shifts.