Influence of climate change on the abundance, distribution and phenology of woodland bird species in temperate regions


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There is now overwhelming evidence that an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere has caused global temperatures to increase by 0.6 °C since 1900 and further increases of between 1.4 and 5.8 °C are predicted over the next century. Changes in climatic conditions have already influenced the demography, phenology and distribution of a wide range of plant and animal taxa. This review focuses on the impacts, both observed and potential, of climate change on birds breeding in temperate woodlands of the Western Palaearctic, a significant proportion of which are currently declining. Changes in ambient temperatures and patterns of precipitation may have direct and indirect effects on the survival rates and productivity of bird species, thus influencing population sizes. For some species or populations, the timing of events such as egg-laying and return from the wintering grounds is also changing in relation to shifts in the peak of food availability during the breeding season. The degree to which different individuals are able to track these temporal changes will have a significant bearing on population sizes and distributions in the future. Unless active management steps are taken, the relatively low dispersal rates of tree species may lead to a decrease in the total area of some woodland habitat types as losses at the southern edge of the range are likely to occur much more quickly than expansion at the northern edge. In addition, the dispersal rates of many woodland birds are themselves low, which could affect their ability to move to new habitat patches if currently occupied areas become unsuitable. Thus, woodland birds may be particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.