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Synergistic effects of climate and land cover: grassland birds are more vulnerable to climate change

Abstract

Context

Climate change is not occurring over a homogeneous landscape and the quantity and quality of available land cover will likely affect the way species respond to climate change. The influence of land cover on species’ responses to climate change, however, is likely to differ depending on habitat type and composition.

Objectives

Our goal was to investigate responses of forest and grassland breeding birds to over 20 years of climate change across varying gradients of forest and grassland habitat. Specifically, we investigated whether (i) increasing amounts of available land cover modify responses of forest and grassland-dependent birds to changing climate and (ii) the effect of increasing land cover amount differs for forest and grassland birds.

Methods

We used Bayesian spatially-varying intercept models to evaluate species- and community-level responses of 30 forest and 10 grassland birds to climate change across varying amounts of their associated land cover types.

Results

Responses of forest birds to climate change were weak and constant across a gradient of forest cover. Conversely, grassland birds responded strongly to changing climatic conditions. Specifically, increasing temperatures led to higher probabilities of localized extinctions for grassland birds, and this effect was intensified in regions with low amounts of grassland cover.

Conclusions

Within the context of northeastern forests and grasslands, we conclude that forests serve as a possible buffer to the impacts of climate change on birds. Conversely, species occupying open, fragmented grassland areas might be particularly at risk of a changing climate due to the diminished buffering capacity of these ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the volunteers who participated in both New York State Breeding Bird Atlases. We also thank Kimberley Corwin and Kevin McGowan for supplying atlas databases and Colin M. Beier, Daniel Bishop, and John Wiley for supplying climate data. The manuscript benefited from discussions with members of the Boone and Crockett Quantitative Wildlife Center at Michigan State University. We thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the earlier drafts of this manuscript. This study received financial support from NASA Grant NNXO9AK16G and Boone and Crockett Club. Andrew O. Finley was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) grants DMS-1513481, EF-1137309, EF-1241874, and EF-1253225.

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Correspondence to Marta A. Jarzyna.

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Jarzyna, M.A., Zuckerberg, B., Finley, A.O. et al. Synergistic effects of climate and land cover: grassland birds are more vulnerable to climate change. Landscape Ecol 31, 2275–2290 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0399-1

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Keywords

  • Breeding bird atlases
  • Climate change
  • Climate-land cover interaction
  • Forest birds
  • Grassland birds
  • Habitat loss