Climate change may be hitting migratory species harder than we thought

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2013-01-30

One of North America's many migratory birds.

It's been estimated that up to one in ten species could go extinct by the end of this century as a result of climate change. Conservation professionals are working hard to understand how climate change will influence species and to develop strategies to manage the risks, but migratory species pose a particular challenge. These long-distance migrants spend parts of their annual cycle in different habitats, at different latitudes, and often cross geopolitical boundaries.

Migration is an adaptive response to geographic and seasonal variation in resources, but climate change may disrupt the longstanding, and sometimes impeccably timed, relationships between migratory species and their environment. Changes in ecological conditions may be taking place on both ends of a migratory route, making it difficult to predict how climate alterations will affect a species or affect it across its range.

Climate change vulnerability assessments are used to develop an understanding of species’ vulnerability to climate change and guide management efforts. These frameworks are becoming mainstream decision support tools for conservation in the US, but they may be doing migratory species a disservice, according to a commentary published this week in Nature Climate Change.

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