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

TitleObserved and predicted effects of climate change on species abundance in protected areas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsJohnston, A, Ausden, M, Dodd, AM, Bradbury, RB, Chamberlain, DE, Jiguet, F, Thomas, CD, Cook, ASCP, Newson, SE, Ockendon, N, Rehfisch, MM, Roos, S, Thaxter, CB, Brown, A, Crick, HQP, Douse, A, McCall, RA, Pontier, H, Stroud, DA, Cadiou, B, Crowe, O, Deceuninck, B, Hornman, M, Pearce-Higgins, JW
JournalNature Climate Change

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 4.0C 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.