Bird Ecology as an Indicator of Climate and Global Change

Wolfgang Fiedler

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Germany

1. Introduction 2.3. Reproduction

2. Indicators of Change 3. Conclusion

2.1. Range References

2.2. Migration


Birds are highly mobile and easy to observe. They are relatively easy to recognise and their occurrence and habits are noted by millions of passionate birdwatchers or just interested laymen. It is not surprising that changes in abundance or behaviour of birds are among the best documented changes known in the animal world. Changes in the arrival of migrating birds at their breeding grounds and their disappearance in autumn have been used as cues to forecast weather in many cultures for centuries. Modern biology understands bird behaviour not as a result of miraculous wisdom of individuals but as a result of the action of evolution through mutation, selection and reproduction. Since a central goal in evolution is adaptation to the environment, climate change, as well as global change in a wider sense will change selection pressures and reproductive success of various behavioural types. This is, indeed, what is presently being observed and birds show us that we are already in the middle of massive changes.

However, it is important to note that not all changes in bird behaviour, as they are currently observed, can be attributed to climate change. Other factors, such as changes in land use, can influence the migration behaviour of birds. Changes in agriculture, in industrial activities or in human behaviour may offer or destroy suitable wintering sites. Examples include anew food source for European Cranes Grus grus in fields of winter weed in northern France, ice-free waters for Coots Fulica atra due to power plant cooling in Lithuania or bird feeders for Blackcaps

Climate Change: Observed Impacts on Planet Earth

Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier B.V. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

Sylvia atricapilla wintering in Great Britain [1]. Effects can be accelerated or attenuated by climate change and in some cases it will not be possible to identify the primary source of change that affects a certain behavioural modification. Nevertheless, all of the environmental changes currently experienced, that top the list in terms of speed and extent, are very likely a result of human activity and thus share a common source. In this chapter, it will be shown that environmental changes affect all areas of a bird's life and that many indicators of this change can be found by observing birds and their ecology.

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