Current analogues of future climate indicate the likely response of a sensitive montane tropical avifauna to a warming world

Anderson, Alexander S., Storlie, Collin J., Shoo, Luke P., Pearson, Richard G., and Williams, Stephen E. (2013) Current analogues of future climate indicate the likely response of a sensitive montane tropical avifauna to a warming world. PLoS ONE, 8 (7). e69393. pp. 1-13.

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Among birds, tropical montane species are likely to be among the most vulnerable to climate change, yet little is known about how climate drives their distributions, nor how to predict their likely responses to temperature increases. Correlative models of species' environmental niches have been widely used to predict changes in distribution, but direct tests of the relationship between key variables, such as temperature, and species' actual distributions are few. In the absence of historical data with which to compare observations and detect shifts, space-for-time substitutions, where warmer locations are used as analogues of future conditions, offer an opportunity to test for species' responses to climate. We collected density data for rainforest birds across elevational gradients in northern and southern subregions within the Australian Wet Tropics (AWT). Using environmental optima calculated from elevational density profiles, we detected a significant elevational difference between the two regions in ten of 26 species. More species showed a positive (19 spp.) than negative (7 spp.) displacement, with a median difference of ~80.6 m across the species analysed that is concordant with that expected due to latitudinal temperature differences (~75.5 m). Models of temperature gradients derived from broad-scale climate surfaces showed comparable performance to those based on in-situ measurements, suggesting the former is sufficient for modeling impacts. These findings not only confirm temperature as an important factor driving elevational distributions of these species, but also suggest species will shift upslope to track their preferred environmental conditions. Our approach uses optima calculated from elevational density profiles, offering a data-efficient alternative to distribution limits for gauging climate constraints, and is sensitive enough to detect distribution shifts in this avifauna in response to temperature changes of as little as 0.4 degrees. We foresee important applications in the urgent task of detecting and monitoring impacts of climate change on montane tropical biodiversity.

Item ID: 29284
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
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© 2013 Anderson et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: Australian Government National Environmental Research Program, Birds Australia, Earthwatch Institute, Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSRF)
Projects and Grants: Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award, Birds Australia
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2013 05:27
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060306 Evolutionary Impacts of Climate Change @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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