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Climate-induced phenological change and its consequences for bird populations

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Bird behaviour in a changing climate

Birds migrate and breed in response to changes in their local climate and seasonal transitions prompt different biological events, so-called phenology.

Climate Change and Environment

Recent changes in weather patterns have resulted in modifications in migratory birds' phenology and species not adjusting their phenology to climate change have declined in population numbers. This trend is an important research focus as better understanding the underlying mechanisms will enable long-term predictions of the impacts of climate change on bird populations and support necessary conservation actions. Researchers studied links between phenology and population dynamics through the EU-funded project 'Climate-induced phenological change and its consequences for bird populations' (BIRD POPULATIONS). At the same time, they worked to align these two research areas which, up until this initiative, were traditionally studied as separate topics. To realise project goals, the team selected migratory birds as a model system as their phenological responsiveness is fairly easy to study. They also have a well-known ecology and there are large amounts of relevant data readily available. Initially, specific research objectives covered developing models for quantifying phenological variation, linking phenology and population models, and investigating different climate change scenarios using computer simulations. Researchers analysed standardised data from Nordic bird observatories as well as long-term monitoring schemes. BIRD POPULATIONS has shown that shifts in wintering ranges due to climate change have positively impacted waterbird populations in Finland. This has also led to changes in their phenology. The study does not imply direct causal effects, but rather the benefits of observing both changes in number and natural biological events. In fact, the main links between phenology and population growth can be considered a result of shifts in seasonal ranges or of variable survival. Progress made during the BIRD POPULATIONS project sets the stage for future research. Researchers have published one article and work on another four is ongoing. The phenological models advanced the ongoing papers should prove useful for researchers and practitioners in the field of applied ecology.

Keywords

Birds, phenology, weather pattern, migratory bird, climate change, population dynamics, phenological variation, population models, wintering range, population growth, variable survival, phenological model, applied ecology

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