BOGOTA, Colombia - A continental-scale network of conservation sites is likely to remain effective under future climate change scenarios, despite a predicted shift in key species distributions. That is one of the main results of the investigation just published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, led by Durham University and carried out in collaboration with the National Audubon Society, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, and BirdLife International.

The study, Site-Based Conservation of Terrestrial Bird Species in the Caribbean and Central and South America Under Climate Change, made possible with a grant given by MacArthur Foundation, was aimed at understanding the impacts of potential climate change scenarios on the network of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) across the Caribbean, and Central and South America. 

These IBA’s are key for the conservation of bird populations around the world. Many of them are formally protected areas, while others are conserved by community-managed reserves or indigenous lands.

The reshuffling taking place in the Caribbean, and Central, and South America is not unique to the region. It is happening all across the world as part of the response species have to recent climate changes. This means that a change in abundance and range may cause species to disappear from certain areas they occupy today and colonize new ones. Identifying the consequences for IBAs is needed to inform conservation strategies and guarantee that these networks remain effective.

Chad Wilsey, VP & Chief Scientist at Audubon, said that “As the climate changes, these findings provide a roadmap for regional and national IBA networks to adapt and continue providing conservation value. In addition, the analysis provides recommendations for the management of each IBA. Both approaches, regional and local are needed to increase species’ resilience to climate change.”

The research modeled the effects of different scenarios of climate change on the wider network. It determined that, for 73 percent of the 939 species of conservation concern for which IBAs have been identified, more than half of the IBAs in which they currently occur were projected to remain climatically suitable and, for 90 percent of species, at least a quarter of sites remain suitable. This same methodology has been used for national parks, like the Colombian Chingaza National Park, and others across the US and Canada.

These results suggest that the network will remain robust under climate change. What is concerning, however, is that seven percent of the species of conservation concern are projected to have no suitable climate in the IBAs currently identified for them.

Professor Stephen Willis, Director of Research in the Durham University Department of Biosciences, said: “The Caribbean and Central and South American region supports about 40% of all the bird species of the world, so this network is vital for a large proportion of the world’s birds. 

"To develop realistic predictions of future changes, we not only considered where suitable climate will occur for species in the future but also the likelihood of species dispersing to newly suitable sites. This information is helping to identify potential management strategies across the IBA network.”

Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International and a co-author on the study, said: “These results highlight how critical it is to effectively conserve the network of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas across the Americas to help safeguard birds in the region under climate change. 

“Despite projections of significant shifts in the distributions of individual species, the network as a whole will continue to play a key role in future conservation efforts.”

Aurelio Ramos, Senior VP, Audubon International Alliances Program, commented that: “Applying this science to secure and strengthen IBAs in the Americas is essential to support the future of birds and people. Audubon, BirdLife International, American Bird Conservancy, and REDLAC have partnered in the Americas on a project to strengthen protection of Climate secure IBAs identified in the research called Conserva Aves."

Alke Voskamp of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre added: “The results of this study highlight the importance of a network-wide perspective when making conservation management decisions for individual sites when planning for climate change.” 

Partnering with a regional approach to conservation is at the heart of the investigation. The project aim was to complete this science and use it to inform the Climate Action Plan for the Americas that was co-created with Birdlife partners from 12 countries. The objective is to deliver nature-based solutions that increase the climate resilience of people and biodiversity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, while supporting carbon sequestration and storage. The complete Plan is available online here.

Publishing this peer-reviewed article, as Durham University is doing in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution, will significantly contribute to the protection of birds and the places they need.

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The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

Media Contact: Poly Martinez, poly.martinez@audubon.org

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