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J Exp Biol. 2010 Mar 15;213(6):862-9. doi: 10.1242/jeb.038356.

Avian distributions under climate change: towards improved projections.

Author information

  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8106, USA. frank.lasorte@yale.edu

Erratum in

  • J Exp Biol. 2010 Apr;213(Pt 8):1395.


Birds are responding to recent climate change in a variety of ways including shifting their geographic ranges to cooler climates. There is evidence that northern-temperate birds have shifted their breeding and non-breeding ranges to higher latitudes, and tropical birds have shifted their breeding ranges to higher altitudes. There is further evidence these shifts have affected migration strategies and the composition and structure of communities. Projections based on correlative distributional models suggest many birds will experience substantial pressures under climate change, resulting in range contraction and shifts. Inherent limitations of correlative models, however, make it difficult to develop reliable projections and detailed inference. Incorporating a mechanistic perspective into species distribution models enriches the quality of model inferences but also severely narrows the taxonomic and geographic relevance. Mechanistic distributional models have seen increased applications, but so far primarily in ectotherms. We argue that further development of similar models in birds would complement existing empirical knowledge and theoretical projections. The considerable data already available on birds offer an exciting basis. In particular, information compiled on flight performance and thermal associations across life history stages could be linked to distributional limits and dispersal abilities, which could be used to develop more robust and detailed projections. Yet, only a broadening of taxonomic scale, specifically to appropriately represented tropical diversity, will allow for truly general inference and require the continued use of correlative approaches that may take on increasingly mechanistic components. The trade-off between detail and scale is likely to characterize the future of global change biodiversity research, and birds may be an excellent group to improve, integrate and geographically extend current approaches.

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