Global warming may trap birds in hostile environments

June 10th, 2009 - 2:28 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 10 (ANI): A new study has indicated that African bird species could struggle to relocate to survive global warming because natural features of the landscape will limit where they can move to.

As the global climate changes, some land bird species will be forced to move to new habitats, expanding and shifting their natural geographical ‘range’, in order to maintain suitable living conditions.

However, a research team from Imperial College London says that some sub-Saharan African species are in danger of getting trapped in environments that will become too hostile for them to survive.

Birds may not be able to move across areas containing dramatically different kinds of landscapes, such as arid plains, tropical forests or mountain ranges.

This is because these different natural features of Africa’s landscape present such uniquely difficult survival challenges for species not already adapted to live across multiple habitats.

This may prevent species from completing their journeys to new homes with suitable climates.

According to Lead author of the new study Lynsey McInnes, a PhD research student at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, “As the climate changes and some habitats become inhospitable, bird species may start to move, stretching their ranges as they track the changing climate across the landscape, looking for new, agreeable habitats.”

“Our study suggests that these vital movements could run into difficulties if the birds’ escape routes cross regions that they’re not well adapted to survive in, such as mountain ranges, arid plains or tropical forests,” McInnes said.

“These regions create barriers which many birds cannot cross because they do not provide the right kind of food and shelter,” McInnes added.

For the study, McInnes and her colleagues from Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences overlaid and analyzed digital maps of the current geographical ranges of nearly 1900 species of sub-Saharan African land birds.

They found a number of key locations where a large number of species’ ranges come to an abrupt end, and realized that these ‘barriers’ correspond with dramatic changes in Africa’s terrain, vegetation and topography.

According to Dr David Orme from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, “We hope to combine our data showing the locations of these ‘barriers’ with African climate projections, so we can predict species which may be most at risk of getting stuck if they try moving to escape climate change.”

“If we can pinpoint species that may run up against these natural barriers, conservationists may be able to help them across, perhaps through assisted migration programmes,” he said. (ANI)

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