You might think birds, of all animals, could just pick up and move if their environment changes in a way not to their liking, but global warming poses a very real threat to the avian world: Scientists say climate change is likely to drive up to 900 bird species into extinction by the end of the century unless additional conservation measures are taken.
Tropical bird species are particularly vulnerable because they are adapted to living in a stable climate, where temperatures do not vary wildly throughout the year, according to Çağan Şekercioğlu of the University of Utah, the lead author of "The effects of climate change on tropical birds," a scientific review of some 200 separate studies published recently in the journal Biological Conservation.
100-500 More Extinctions For Each Degree Of Warming
Surface warming of 3.5 degrees Celsius -- the middle range of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest estimate -- by the year 2100 "may result in 600-900 extinctions of land bird species, 89 percent of which occur in the tropics," Şekercioğlu and his co-authors Richard Primack and Janice Wormworth write. "Depending on the amount of future habitat loss, each degree of surface warming could lead to approximately 100-500 additional bird extinctions."
The new article, which updates previous research from 2007, looks at different categories of birds (such as "aquatic birds in the tropics," "arid zone species," and "birds in human-dominated landscapes") to assess which will be the most affected by climate change. It also examines how global warming compounds other threats, including habitat loss, hunting, invasive species, pollution, and disease.
Habitat Loss Dramatically Compounds The Problem
"[I]n some cases habitat loss [from agriculture and development] can increase bird extinctions caused by climate change by nearly 50 percent," Şekercioğlu says, calling for further research to be conducted, degraded habitat to be restored, and more land to be protected.
It's not just birds that are at stake. "Farmers, hunter-gatherers, nomadic herders, and others, especially in less developed countries, depend on a healthy environment, and birds are important for ecosystem services like seed dispersal and insect control," The New York Times points out in an article about the study.
And as Şekercioğlu told the paper: "If this is happening to birds, and they can migrate, then for other organisms, it’s going to be worse."