From: Robin Blackstone, ENN
Published April 8, 2014 12:23 PM

Shifting bird and reptile distributions

With climate change come several dramatic shifts in species distribution within the United States.  The U.S. Geological Survey in concert with the University of New Mexico and Northern Arizona University have recently projected distribution losses for nearly half of the 5 examined reptile species including the locally famed chuckwalla.  Breeding bird ranges, however exhibited broader expansions and contractions within their breeding habitats. 

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For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, the latter three species may experience population declines. With the decline in the pinyon pine habitat, the pinyon jay will likely experience between one fourth and one third loss of its breeding territory. 

"Not surprisingly, whether a species is projected to be a winner or a loser depends primarily on its natural history and habitat needs and requirements," said USGS scientist Charles van Riper III, the lead author on the study. "Land managers should be aware of these potential changes so that they can adjust their management practices accordingly."

The study was conducted by layering existing global climate change models with newer species distribution models to estimate losses and gains of seven southwestern upland bird species and 5 reptile species focusing on the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau.

Temperatures in this region are projected to increase 6.3-7.2 F (3.5—4°C) within the next 60—90 years while precipitation is projected to decline by 5—20 percent.

"Changes of this magnitude may have profound effects on distribution and viability of many species," noted Stephen T. Jackson, director of the Interior Department's Southwest Climate Science Center. "Temperature matters a lot, biologically, in arid and semi-arid regions."

The information has been documented and published in a series of range maps now available through the USGS. These predictive maps will help decision makers prioritize conservation efforts.

"Wildlife resource managers need regionally specific information about climate change consequences so they better identify tools and strategies to conserve and sustain habitats in their region," said Doug Beard, director of the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center that supported the project. "Managers can use these results to help plan for ways to offset projected effects of climate change on these species."  

Read more at The USGS.

Pinyon Jay image via Shutterstock.

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