Backyard birds disrupted by climate change

July 10, 2017

Changing times: Birds like the Rosebreasted Grosbeak are being affected by climate change (Image: Ian Pearse)

New research has shown that climate change is altering the delicate seasonal clock that migratory songbirds rely on to mate and raise young.

Ecologist Dr Margaret Andrew from the Murdoch School of Veterinary and Life Sciences was part of an international research team that studied 48 species of songbird in North America.

They found earlier springs had left nine of these species unable to reach their northern breeding grounds at the times critical for producing the next generation of fledglings.

This was because, in many regions, warming temperatures or changing rainfall patterns were triggering plants to begin their growth earlier or later than normal, skewing biological cycles that have long been synchronised.

Affected birds included cuckoos and warbler – species people are used to seeing and hearing in their backyards.

While the majority of species altered their arrival dates, the study suggests the rate of climate change is outpacing their adjustments.

The research team used data from satellites and citizen scientists to study how quickly the interval between spring plant growth and the arrival of 48 songbird species across North America changed from 2001 to 2012.

Dr Andrew said there was potential for climate change to have similar impacts on migratory species in Australia, but bird movement patterns were more varied than those of their North American counterparts.

“Research has shown that climate change impacts to life cycle timings are being observed in vegetation and birds in Australia,” said Dr Andrew.

“But apart from some seabird species, Australia generally doesn’t have many intercontinental and long-distance migrants, like those we investigated in the US.

“Ecosystems here may be influenced more by rainfall, which can be highly variable in Australia, making things more complicated than a temperature-driven shift in seasons.

“Many Australian bird species are nomadic and somehow track unpredictable rainfall events and subsequent pulses of their food. The impact of climate change on these movements would require more investigation.”

The North American study was led by Dr Stephen Mayor from the University of Florida, and was published in Scientific Reports. It can be viewed here.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!