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Climate change and population declines in a long-distance migratory bird

Nature volume 441, pages 8183 (04 May 2006) | Download Citation



Phenological responses to climate change differ across trophic levels1,2,3, which may lead to birds failing to breed at the time of maximal food abundance. Here we investigate the population consequences of such mistiming in the migratory pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca4. In a comparison of nine Dutch populations, we find that populations have declined by about 90% over the past two decades in areas where the food for provisioning nestlings peaks early in the season and the birds are currently mistimed. In areas with a late food peak, early-breeding birds still breed at the right time, and there is, at most, a weak population decline. If food phenology advances further, we also predict population declines in areas with a late food peak, as in these areas adjustment to an advanced food peak is insufficient4. Mistiming as a result of climate change is probably a widespread phenomenon1, and here we provide evidence that it can lead to population declines.

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The long-term data on the Hoge Veluwe were collected under the directorships of H. van Balen and A. van Noordwijk, and the database was managed by J. Visser. B. van der Brink, B. Blaauw, H. and A. Dekhuijzen, H. Jansen, and J. van Laar provided population data. We are grateful to Nationaal Park de Hoge Veluwe, Staatsbosbeheer, Natuurmonumenten and Het Geldersch Landschap for permission to work on their properties. Comments made by J. Harvey, T. Piersma, D. Winkler and J. Wright improved the manuscript.

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Author notes

    • Sandra Bouwhuis

    †Present addresses: Behavioural Biology Group, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750AA Haren, The Netherlands, and The Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK


  1. Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 40, 6666ZG Heteren, The Netherlands

    • Christiaan Both
    • , Sandra Bouwhuis
    • , C. M. Lessells
    •  & Marcel E. Visser
  2. Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750AA Haren, The Netherlands

    • Christiaan Both


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christiaan Both.

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    Supplementary Notes

    This file contains Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Discussion (Justification for using caterpillar data from only 2003)

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