Population responses of bird populations to climate change on two continents vary with species’ ecological traits but not with direction of change in climate suitability

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Climate change is a major global threat to biodiversity with widespread impacts on ecological communities. Evidence for beneficial impacts on populations is perceived to be stronger and more plentiful than that for negative impacts, but few studies have investigated this apparent disparity, or how ecological factors affect population responses to climatic change. We examined the strength of the relationship between species-specific regional population changes and climate suitability trends (CST), using 30-year datasets of population change for 525 breeding bird species in Europe and the USA. These data indicate a consistent positive relationship between population trend and CST across the two continents. Importantly, we found no evidence that this positive relationship differs between species expected to be negatively and positively impacted across the entire taxonomic group, suggesting that climate change is causing equally strong, quantifiable population increases and declines. Species’ responses to changing climatic suitability varied with ecological traits, however, particularly breeding habitat preference and body mass. Species associated with inland wetlands responded most strongly and consistently to recent climatic change. In Europe, smaller species also appeared to respond more strongly, whilst the relationship with body mass was less clear-cut for North American birds. Overall, our results identify the role of certain traits in modulating responses to climate change and emphasise the importance of long-term data on abundance for detecting large-scale species’ responses to environmental changes.


  • Lucy R. Mason
  • Rhys E. Green
  • Christine Howard
  • Philip A. Stephens
  • Stephen G. Willis
  • Ainars Aunins
  • Lluís Brotons
  • Tomasz Chodkiewicz
  • Przemysław Chylarecki
  • Virginia Escandell
  • Ruud P.B. Foppen
  • Sergi Herrando
  • Magne Husby
  • Frédéric Jiguet
  • John Atle Kålås
  • Dario Massimino
  • Charlotte Moshøj
  • Renno Nellis
  • Jean Yves Paquet
  • Jiří Reif
  • Päivi M. Sirkiä
  • Tibor Szép
  • Guido Tellini Florenzano
  • Norbert Teufelbauer
  • Sven Trautmann
  • Arco van Strien
  • Chris A.M. van Turnhout
  • Petr Voříšek
  • Richard D. Gregory
External organisations
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • University of Cambridge
  • Durham University
  • University of Latvia
  • Latvian Ornithological Society
  • Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona
  • Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry (CERAF)
  • Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia
  • Spanish Council of Scientific Research (CSIC)
  • Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (OTOP)
  • Spanish Ornithological Society
  • Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology
  • Radboud University Nijmegen
  • European Bird Census Council
  • BirdLife Norway
  • Norwegian Institute for Nature Research
  • British Trust for Ornithology
  • Dansk Ornitologisk Forening - BirdLife Denmark
  • Estonian Ornithological Society
  • Natagora
  • Charles University in Prague
  • Finnish Museum of Natural History
  • University of Nyíregyháza
  • DREAM Italia
  • Federation of German Avifaunists (DDA)
  • Statistics Netherlands
  • Palacký University
  • Museum and Institute of Zoology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
  • Nord University
  • Centre d'Écologie et des Sciences de la Conservation (CESCO)
  • University of Helsinki
  • BirdLife Österreich
  • University College London
  • Czech Society for Ornithology (CSO)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-354
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
Early online date2019 Oct 9
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch