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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

The future distribution of wetland birds breeding in Europe validated against observed changes in distribution

Soultan, Alaaeldin; Pavon-Jordan, Diego; Bradter, Ute; Sandercock, Brett K.; Hochachka, Wesley M.; Johnston, Alison; Brommer, Jon; Gaget, Elie; Keller, Verena; Knaus, Peter; Aghababyan, Karen; Maxhuni, Qenan; Vintchevski, Alexandre; Nagy, Karoly; Raudonikis, Liutauras; Balmer, Dawn; Noble, David; Leitao, Domingos; Oien, Ingar Jostein; Shimmings, Paul;
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Wetland bird species have been declining in population size worldwide as climate warming and land-use change affect their suitable habitats. We used species distribution models (SDMs) to predict changes in range dynamics for 64 non-passerine wetland birds breeding in Europe, including range size, position of centroid, and margins. We fitted the SDMs with data collected for the first European Breeding Bird Atlas and climate and land-use data to predict distributional changes over a century (the 1970s-2070s). The predicted annual changes were then compared to observed annual changes in range size and range centroid over a time period of 30 years using data from the second European Breeding Bird Atlas. Our models successfully predicted ca. 75% of the 64 bird species to contract their breeding range in the future, while the remaining species (mostly southerly breeding species) were predicted to expand their breeding ranges northward. The northern margins of southerly species and southern margins of northerly species, both, predicted to shift northward. Predicted changes in range size and shifts in range centroids were broadly positively associated with the observed changes, although some species deviated markedly from the predictions. The predicted average shift in core distributions was ca. 5 km yr(-1) towards the north (5% northeast, 45% north, and 40% northwest), compared to a slower observed average shift of ca. 3.9 km yr(-1). Predicted changes in range centroids were generally larger than observed changes, which suggests that bird distribution changes may lag behind environmental changes leading to 'climate debt'. We suggest that predictions of SDMs should be viewed as qualitative rather than quantitative outcomes, indicating that care should be taken concerning single species. Still, our results highlight the urgent need for management actions such as wetland creation and restoration to improve wetland birds' resilience to the expected environmental changes in the future.


European Breeding Bird Atlas; breeding distributions; climate change; land-use change; species distribution models

Published in

Environmental Research Letters
2022, volume: 17, number: 2, article number: 024025
Publisher: IOP Publishing Ltd

Authors' information

Soultan, Alaaeldin
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Pavon-Jordan, Diego
Norwegian Institute Nature Research
Bradter, Ute
Norwegian Institute Nature Research
Sandercock, Brett K.
Norwegian Institute Nature Research
Hochachka, Wesley M.
Cornell University
Johnston, Alison
Cornell University
Brommer, Jon
University of Turku
Gaget, Elie
University of Turku
Keller, Verena
Swiss Ornithological Institute
Knaus, Peter
Swiss Ornithological Institute
Aghababyan, Karen
BirdLinks Armenia NGO
Maxhuni, Qenan
Kosovo Institute for Nature Protection
Vintchevski, Alexandre
APB-BirdLife Belarus
Nagy, Károly
MME BirdLife Hungary
Raudonikis, Liutauras
BirdLife Lithuania
Balmer, Dawn
British Trust for Ornithology
Noble, David
British Trust for Ornithology
Leitão, Domingos
Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA)
Jostein Oien, Ingar
Norwegian Ornithological Society (NOF)
Shimmings, Paul
BirdLife Norway
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Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG13 Climate action

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