Get access

Rapid changes in bird community composition at multiple temporal and spatial scales in response to recent climate change


Å. Lindström, Dept of Biology, Biodiversity Unit, Lund Univ., Ecology Building, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden. E-mail:


Although climate change is acknowledged to affect population dynamics and species distribution, details of how community composition is affected are still lacking. We investigate whether ongoing changes in bird community composition can be explained by contemporary changes in summer temperatures, using four independent long-term bird census schemes from Sweden (up to 57 yr); two at the national scale and two at local scales. The change in bird community composition was represented by a community temperature index (CTI) that reflects the balance in abundance between low- and high-temperature dwelling species. In all schemes, CTI tracked patterns of temperature increase, stability or decrease remarkably well, with a lag period of 1–3 yr. This response was similar at both the national and local scale. However, the communities did not respond fast enough to cope with temperature increase, suggesting that community composition lags behind changes in temperature. The change in CTI was caused mainly by changes in species’ relative abundances, and less so by changes in species composition. We conclude that ongoing changes in bird community structure are driven to a large extent by contemporary changes in climate and that CTI can be used as a simple indicator for how bird communities respond.