The phenology mismatch hypothesis: are declines of migrant birds linked to uneven global climate change?


Correspondence author. E-mail:


1. Migrant bird populations are declining and have been linked to anthropogenic climate change. The phenology mismatch hypothesis predicts that migrant birds, which experience a greater rate of warming in their breeding grounds compared to their wintering grounds, are more likely to be in decline, because their migration will occur later and they may then miss the early stages of the breeding season. Population trends will also be negatively correlated with distance, because the chances of phenology mismatch increase with number of staging sites.

2. Population trends from the Palaearctic (1990–2000) and Nearctic (1980–2006) were collated for 193 spatially separate migrant bird populations, along with temperature trends for the wintering and breeding areas. An index of phenology mismatch was calculated as the difference between wintering and breeding temperature trends.

3. In the Nearctic, phenology mismatch was correlated with population declines as predicted, but in the Palaearctic, distance was more important. This suggests that differential global climate change may be responsible for contributing to some migrant species’ declines, but its effects may be more important in the Nearctic.

4. Differences in geography and so average migration distance, migrant species composition and history of anthropogenic change in the two areas may account for the differences in the strength of the importance of phenology mismatch on migrant declines in the Nearctic and Palaearctic.