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Observed and predicted effects of climate change on species abundance in protected areas

Abstract

The dynamic nature and diversity of species’ responses to climate change poses significant difficulties for developing robust, long-term conservation strategies. One key question is whether existing protected area networks will remain effective in a changing climate. To test this, we developed statistical models that link climate to the abundance of internationally important bird populations in northwestern Europe. Spatial climate–abundance models were able to predict 56% of the variation in recent 30-year population trends. Using these models, future climate change resulting in 4.0 °C global warming was projected to cause declines of at least 25% for more than half of the internationally important populations considered. Nonetheless, most EU Special Protection Areas in the UK were projected to retain species in sufficient abundances to maintain their legal status, and generally sites that are important now were projected to be important in the future. The biological and legal resilience of this network of protected areas is derived from the capacity for turnover in the important species at each site as species’ distributions and abundances alter in response to climate. Current protected areas are therefore predicted to remain important for future conservation in a changing climate.

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Figure 1: Model validation of modelled and observed 30-year linear population trends.
Figure 2: Marginal linear effects of weather covariates on species abundance.
Figure 3: Projected changes to the representation for each species on current SPAs.
Figure 4: Projected changes to the number of qualifying species in each current SPA.
Figure 5: Projected changes to the species qualifying within SPAs for each assemblage.

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Acknowledgements

This project was funded by Defra with the support of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. We would like to thank all the professional and amateur ornithologists who contributed to the collection of bird data. We also acknowledge the provision of bird data from the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands, which included schemes coordinated or contributed to by BirdWatch Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Countryside Council for Wales, Environment and Heritage Service for Northern Ireland, Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique Oiseaux Marins, International Waterbird Census, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Natural England, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish Natural Heritage, SOVON Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Weather data were provided by UKCP09 and E-OBS from the EU-FP6 project ENSEMBLES, and future climate projections were from UKCP09. Other data were provided by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Ordnance Survey and Joint Nature Conservation Committee. We acknowledge input from G. Austin, I. Burfield, N. Burton, C. Campbell, N, Clark, G. Conway, D. Fouracre and S. Wotton.

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A.J., J.W.P-H. and C.D.T. wrote the article, with significant input from M.A., A.M.D., R.B.B., D.E.C. andF.J., and all other authors contributed to the manuscript. A.B., H.P., M.M.R., D.E.C., A.J., J.P.H., A.M.D., M.A., F.J., R.B.B. and C.D.T. designed the study. A.J., N.O., C.B.T. and S.E.N. ran models and analysed results. A.J., S.R., B.C., A.S.C.P.C., O.C., B.D., M.H., F.J. and N.O. collated and prepared data. D.A.S., R.A.M., A.D., A.B., H.Q.P.C. and H.P. provided scientific advice throughout the project.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alison Johnston, Mark M. Rehfisch or Staffan Roos.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Johnston, A., Ausden, M., Dodd, A. et al. Observed and predicted effects of climate change on species abundance in protected areas. Nature Clim Change 3, 1055–1061 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2035

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