Dave Mehlman, the director of The Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird program, is blogging all week about the new “State of the Birds 2010” report, of which he is a co-author. Read all his posts on the report — then go to my.nature.org to learn more about the report and the Conservancy’s work to protect birds.
The 2010 State of the Birds report, released last week by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, is a follow-up to last year’s groundbreaking report by the same name. This year’s report focuses on climate change, perhaps one of the most critical issues to our nation’s birds.
The report, again a product of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative and an array of federal agencies and private conservation groups, starts with the assumption that birds are sensitive indicators of the effects of climate change on our environment. It looks at how birds are doing and might fare in a changing world.
The team developing the report, of which I was a member, assessed each species in the United States for its vulnerability to climate change, based on its biological sensitivity to climate and the exposure of its habitat to short-term climate change.
Using this assessment, we were able to analyze all the major habitat types that we used in the 2009 report to determine the relative vulnerability of habitats to climate change. We were also able to explore how various subgroups and species of birds within habitat types might vary in their susceptibility to climate change.
We found dramatic differences between habitat types in their birds’ vulnerability to climate change:
- By far the most vulnerable are oceanic birds and those found in Hawaii.
- Birds of coastal, arctic and alpine, grasslands, and on Caribbean and other Pacific Islands showed intermediate vulnerability.
- Lower levels of relative vulnerability were shown by birds of aridlands, wetlands and forests.
Across all habitat types, birds species already considered of conservation concern (such as those listed under the Endangered Species Act, on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern list, or on the American Bird Conservancy/Audubon Watchlist) showed higher vulnerability than those not already considered of concern.
This finding clearly implies that climate change will exacerbate the currently precarious status of these species. However, this same analysis also clearly points out certain species which are likely to become of concern in the future, even though they currently are not.
I’ll outline some of those species in my follow-up posts this week.
(Image: Red-footed booby at Palmyra Atoll. Image credit: Jonathan Reed/TNC.)