Wednesday, 16 October, 2019

Study says hundreds of North American bird species face extinction threat

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Deanna Wagner | 12 October, 2019, 20:05

Like the rest of North America, the report shows many of South Carolina's birds are likely to experience range shifts in the future as a result of a changing climate, with almost 20 percent of the state's 236 bird species included in the study identified as vulnerable to climate change.

"Birds are important indicator species because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people, too", said Brooke Bateman, Audubon's senior climate scientist.

Now, a new report suggests that those past declines are just a prelude to something worse: almost two-thirds of all North American bird species are facing a serious threat to their survival as climate change accelerates and becomes a dominant factor in ecosystems on a continentwide scale. In fact, birds are already suffering at the hands of climate change and other human-caused environmental threats, according to scientists.

Using latest climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they examined the habitats of 604 North American species.

"We are in the midst of a bird emergency", Audubon's Chief Executive David Yarnold said at a news briefing.

"More than we thought are vulnerable", said Jeff Wells of the Audubon Society, which crunched 140 million records from 70 data sources on 604 different species for the study released Thursday.

The almost 400 bird species make up about two-thirds of all species in North America.

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But if the expected rise in temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 F) by 2080 is slowed to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 F), almost 40 per cent of those species would no longer be considered vulnerable, researchers said. As elsewhere in North America, the worst effects of climate change can be averted by urgent action.

Last month, Science published a study by a joint team of conservation biologists describing a grim picture: a steady decline of almost three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. "When I was a child, my grandmother introduced me to the common loons that lived on the lake at my grandparent's home in northern Wisconsin".

Because birds can migrate and disperse more easily than other species, they are often better able to adapt than other animals. And along with them, so may we.

"Climate change is both a direct threat to birds and other wildlife but also a driver of nearly every other threat, that exacerbates their effects", he said.

Dr. Bateman and her team also studied climate-related impacts on birds across the lower 48 states, including sea level rise, urbanization, cropland expansion, drought, extreme spring heat, fire weather and heavy rain.

As the climate warms, birds would be forced to relocate to find a more favourable habitat, and they may not survive this journey, the report said.

Renee Stone, vice president of climate for the National Audubon Society, called on elected officials to treat climate change as a priority going forward. "Now, what we need are more people committed to making sure those solutions are put into practice".