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A Warmer Midwest Could Lead to a Common Bird Becoming Less Common

An Acadian flycatcher sitting on its nest. Photo by Andrew Cox, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A warmer future may lead to a common midwestern songbird becoming considerably less common because nesting success is predicted to decline with warmer temperatures. Scientists discovered that climate warming can affect species through complex effects on their population ecology and not simply by causing species to move north.

Understanding global change processes that threaten species viability is critical for assessing vulnerability and deciding on appropriate conservation actions. A Northern Research Station scientist and cooperators used population models to estimate effects of climate change on annual breeding productivity and population viability of a common forest songbird, the Acadian flycatcher, through 2100 across the Central Hardwoods region. Their approach drew on 20 years of research on nesting songbirds and empirically derived relationships between songbird breeding productivity and weather to develop population models that allowed researchers to project population growth under different climate scenarios. A driving factor behind decreased productivity is increased nest predation at warmer temperatures. Researchers show that warming temperatures under a worst-case scenario with unabated climate change could reduce breeding productivity to an extent that this currently abundant species could have a 95 percent decline in abundance by 2100. However, researchers also show that this risk is greatly reduced for scenarios where emissions and warming are curtailed. These results highlight the importance of considering both direct and indirect effects of climate change when assessing vulnerability of species and that climate change can have complex effects on species interactions, such as nest predation.



External Partners

  • Thomas W. Bonnot, University of Missouri
  • W. Andrew Cox, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Joshua J. Millspaugh, University of Montana
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center