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Other publication, 2008

Effects of climate change on avian life history and fitness

Schneider; Nicole, A


Evidence for the impact of the recent climate change on ecological systems has rapidly accumulated for a variety of biota. In avian communities the documented responses to a changing climate (i.e. mainly changes related to temperature) are primarily range shifts, changes in breeding time, and the difficulty to synchronise offspring and food phenology. In this review I summarise the key changes and responses of bird communities and populations to changing temperatures. First, short- and long-distance migrants adjust their migratory phenology by advancing their arrival at the breeding grounds and starting to breed earlier. Whereas resident species and short-distance migrants, however, might profit from a milder climate long-distance migrants are predicted to face growing disadvantages and population declines. Second, insectivorous bird species try to synchronise the timing of their broods with the successively earlier occurrence of the peak in prey abundance. The fitness related responses to changes in the phenology of food for nestlings, however, vary between studies, ranging from earlier breeding, shorter incubation and changes in clutch size to the reduction of second broods, parental survival and reproductive prospects. So far, the majority of studies supports that birds are not fully able to synchronise their broods with the peak of food abundance, thus reducing reproductive success. The repercussions of global warming on life history traits and fitness correlates of avian populations depend on the adaptive potential of the population. Documented examples of evolutionary responses are rare, especially at the microevolutionary level. While breeding time seems to display great phenotypic plasticity, thus causing individuals to be able to adaptively track changes in spring temperatures; it nonetheless remains unclear whether the degree of phenotypic plasticity observed is enough to cope with future changes in annual temperatures. Furthermore, most current studies are based on insectivorous hole-nesting bird species breeding in broad-leaved woodlands that rely on the abundance of winter moths’ larvae. The generality of these studies for other bird species breeding in other habitats therefore is questionable


arrival time; climate change; evolutionary change; fitness parameters; long- and short distance migrants; migration phenology; mismatch hypothesis; North Atlantic Oscillation; phenotypic plasticity

Published in

Introductory research essay (Department of Ecology, SLU)
2008, Volume: 4
Publisher: Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    SLU Authors

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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