Feeling the heat: Boreal breeding birds follow modelled range changes under warming climate

Heini Kujala (1), Aleksi Lehikoinen (2), Jari Valkama (2), Wilfried Thuiller (3)


1 ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), The University of Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia, heini.kujala@unimelb.edu.au, @HeiniKujala

2 Finnish Museum of Natural History, Pohjoinen Rautatienkatu 13, 0010 Helsinki, Finland

3 Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, UMR‐CNRS 5553, Université Joseph Fourier, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France

Predictive species  distribution modelling has  become the  cornerstone of  research on  climate change impacts on  biodiversity. Yet  conservation actions  that  utilize such  information on  future impacts are lacking. One of the major reasons is the associated high uncertainty of predicting future changes, making it difficult to decide what and where to protect. Some have even questioned the reliability of the many ways simplified distribution models to produce information accurate enough for conservation decision making. We investigated recent observed changes in breeding bird distributions in Finland and show that species are  indeed following predicted range changes estimated with  species distribution models. Using past (1970s‐1980s) and present (2010) national distribution patterns of Finnish breeding birds and comparing them to current population trends, we show how impacts of climate change are already ongoing in nature, with clear declines of northern species and expansions of southern species. However, the accuracy of the modelled impacts varied between modelling approaches and between species traits. We also found that the observed patterns followed most accurately the predicted changes of the most extreme climate change scenario, indicating that species are responding to a rapid change in their environment. Our results provide support for adopting predictive distribution models in conservation management actions as they, despite the inherent uncertainty, provide useful information about ongoing and near future changes in biodiversity under changing climatic conditions.