Letter | Published:

Threat of climate change on a songbird population through its impacts on breeding

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages718722 (2018) | Download Citation


Understanding global change processes that threaten species viability is critical for assessing vulnerability and deciding on appropriate conservation actions1. Here we combine individual-based2 and metapopulation models to estimate the effects of climate change on annual breeding productivity and population viability up to 2100 of a common forest songbird, the Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), across the Central Hardwoods ecoregion, a 39.5-million-hectare area of temperate and broadleaf forests in the USA. Our approach integrates local-scale, individual breeding productivity, estimated from empirically derived demographic parameters that vary with landscape and climatic factors (such as forest cover, daily temperature)3, into a dynamic-landscape metapopulation model4 that projects growth of the regional population over time. We show that warming temperatures under a worst-case scenario with unabated climate change could reduce breeding productivity to an extent that this currently abundant species will suffer population declines substantial enough to pose a significant risk of quasi-extinction from the region in the twenty-first century. However, we also show that this risk is greatly reduced for scenarios where emissions and warming are curtailed. These results highlight the importance of considering both direct and indirect effects of climate change when assessing the vulnerability of species.

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The authors thank C. Rota, J. S. Fraser and W. D. Dijak for data and input on the study. Funding was provided by the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the Department of the Interior USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center graduate and post-doctoral fellowships, and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station. The contents of this Letter are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government.

Author information


  1. School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA

    • Thomas W. Bonnot
  2. Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gainesville, FL, USA

    • W. Andrew Cox
  3. Northern Research Station, United States Forest Service, Columbia, MO, USA

    • Frank R. Thompson
  4. Wildlife Biology Program, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA

    • Joshua J. Millspaugh


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All authors contributed to the design of the analysis. T.W.B. and W.A.C. developed the individual-based model. T.W.B. developed the metapopulation model and performed the analysis. All authors contributed to drafting of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas W. Bonnot.

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