Climate change 'could make planet uninhabitable for birds'

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 12:55pm

Climate change could have a lasting impact on bird populations, with some dying out and others forced to recolonise, scientists have warned.

The recent record temperatures globally, from the hottest day ever in Britain to a deadly heatwave across Europe, has prompted research into the distribution of birds throughout history.

Researchers at Cambridge, Oxford, and Bristol universities have looked to climate modelling from prehistoric times that could indicate whether modern birds could be affected by climate change in similar ways to their ancestors.

Tropical birds were once widely distributed around the world due to the higher temperatures, but now it is more common to see them concentrated around the equator.

If global temperatures continue to rise at their current rates, these tropical birds may once again become more widely distributed around the world.

While seeing more variety in how birds are distributed may seem appealing, the research warns that if temperatures increase too rapidly, birds may not be able to colonise appropriate regions quickly enough.

Instead of becoming more widely distributed, these species would die.

History provides insight into how and where birds and other animals lived and what the future may hold for them.

By looking at geological timescales, ancient climates and bird habitats, researchers have been able to suggest what may happen to the bird populations of today.

Mousebirds, known as the "living fossils" due to their ancient lineage, once lived in diverse areas worldwide and now only live in Africa - as do the turaco birds.

These species will likely have to move in the next few years due to climate change.

Study co-leader Dr Erin Saupe, from the Oxford University, said: "Advances in ecological modelling allow us able to combine evidence from the present day with information from the deep past, and projections of the distant future, in ways that were previously impossible.

"Our work illustrates how this broad approach can greatly clarify the long-term influence of climatic change on the geographic distributions of birds."

Dr Daniel Field, from the University of Cambridge, told Sky News that climate change has already had an effect on bird species in the UK.

He highlighted the rose-ringed parakeet, which has become the most abundant naturalised parrot in the country since it was first introduced some 50 million years ago.

Dr Field said: "As Earth's climate warms over the coming decades and centuries, it may be that other bird groups accustomed to the tropics take up residence in the UK."

The study comes following a report titled State Of The World's Birds, carried out by Birdlife International last year, which found that one in eight bird species are threatened with extinction.

This included birds ranging from puffins and turtle doves, which are widespread throughout the globe - in addition to already at risk birds such as the rare kakapo parrot, which has a population of less than 150.

Recent research undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology and Natural England also showed how variations in climate over the last 50 years have affected one-third of English breeding bird populations.

As birds are found throughout most ecosystems, their well-being may help signal the health of the environment.

Research has already shown that forest-dwelling birds, long-distance migrants and coastal-nesting species are displaying severe consequences of the direct effects of climate change.

Dr Field said: "Our work illustrates the importance of the fossil record for understanding modern-day problems.

"By understanding the strong links between climate and animal distributions in the past, we can begin to plan and adapt for the future."

Sky News

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