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Conserv Biol. 2008 Feb;22(1):140-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00852.x.

Climate change, elevational range shifts, and bird extinctions.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Limitations imposed on species ranges by the climatic, ecological, and physiological effects of elevation are important determinants of extinction risk. We modeled the effects of elevational limits on the extinction risk of landbirds, 87% of all bird species. Elevational limitation of range size explained 97% of the variation in the probability of being in a World Conservation Union category of extinction risk. Our model that combined elevational ranges, four Millennium Assessment habitat-loss scenarios, and an intermediate estimate of surface warming of 2.8 degrees C, projected a best guess of 400-550 landbird extinctions, and that approximately 2150 additional species would be at risk of extinction by 2100. For Western Hemisphere landbirds, intermediate extinction estimates based on climate-induced changes in actual distributions ranged from 1.3% (1.1 degrees C warming) to 30.0% (6.4 degrees C warming) of these species. Worldwide, every degree of warming projected a nonlinear increase in bird extinctions of about 100-500 species. Only 21% of the species predicted to become extinct in our scenarios are currently considered threatened with extinction. Different habitat-loss and surface-warming scenarios predicted substantially different futures for landbird species. To improve the precision of climate-induced extinction estimates, there is an urgent need for high-resolution measurements of shifts in the elevational ranges of species. Given the accelerating influence of climate change on species distributions and conservation, using elevational limits in a tested, standardized, and robust manner can improve conservation assessments of terrestrial species and will help identify species that are most vulnerable to global climate change. Our climate-induced extinction estimates are broadly similar to those of bird species at risk from other factors, but these estimates largely involve different sets of species.

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