, Volume 159, Issue 3, pp 649-659
Date: 14 Dec 2008

Does climate change explain the decline of a trans-Saharan Afro-Palaearctic migrant?

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Abstract

There is an urgent need to understand how climate change will impact on demographic parameters of vulnerable species. Migrants are regarded as particularly vulnerable to climate change; phenological mismatch has resulted in the local decline of one passerine, whilst variations in the survival of others have been related to African weather conditions. However, there have been few demographic studies on trans-Saharan non-passerine migrants, despite these showing stronger declines across Europe than passerines. We therefore analyse the effects of climate on the survival and productivity of common sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos, a declining non-passerine long-distant migrant using 28 years’ data from the Peak District, England. Adult survival rates were significantly negatively correlated with winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), being lower when winters were warm and wet in western Europe and cool and dry in northwest Africa. Annual variation in the productivity of the population was positively correlated with June temperature, but not with an index of phenological mismatch. The 59% population decline appears largely to have been driven by reductions in adult survival, with local productivity poorly correlated with subsequent population change, suggesting a low degree of natal philopatry. Winter NAO was not significantly correlated with adult survival rates in a second, Scottish Borders population, studied for 12 years. Variation in climatic conditions alone does not therefore appear to be responsible for common sandpiper declines. Unlike some passerine migrants, there was no evidence for climate-driven reductions in productivity, although the apparent importance of immigration in determining local recruitment complicates the assessment of productivity effects. We suggest that further studies to diagnose common sandpiper declines should focus on changes in the condition of migratory stop-over or wintering locations. Where possible, these analyses should be repeated for other declining migrants.

Communicated by Katrin Böhning-Gaese.