Climate Change and Sierra Nevada Birds banner photo

Climate change is a vast and complicated issue for land managers and biologists. Nearly all of our research and conservation work in the Sierra Nevada is informed by climate change questions in one way or another. Examples include helping design and assess meadow restoration that may enhance resilience to climate change as winter snowpack decreases; considering how climate change will affect wildfire behavior, and how fire will affect birds; and using demographic monitoring to assess how weather variation affects demographics.

In a rapidly changing climate, effective bird conservation requires credible projections of species’ vulnerability to future conditions. In an analysis funded by the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative and published in 2014, IBP scientists and colleagues predicted vulnerability of 168 species that breed in the Sierra Nevada. The analysis assessed exposure and sensitivity to climate change, incorporating information about each species’ distribution and ecological relationships using two climate change models. Only White-tailed Ptarmigan was ranked Extremely Vulnerable. Sixteen species scored as Moderately Vulnerable: Common Merganser, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Spotted Sandpiper, Great Gray Owl, Black Swift, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Dipper, Swainson’s Thrush, American Pipit, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak.

IBP has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to study the potential impacts of climate change on Sierra Nevada birds. In this short video, IBP Executive Director Rodney Siegel describes IBP’s work at Yosemite’s MAPS stations, some of the longest-running MAPS Stations in the country.

Species associated with alpine or subalpine habitats and aquatic ecosystems received significantly more vulnerable rankings than birds associated with other habitats. In contrast, species primarily associated with foothill, sagebrush, and chaparral habitats ranked as less vulnerable than other birds. Our results suggest that some of these species may respond to climate change in the region with population increases or range expansions. These results can help Sierra Nevada land managers to prioritize conservation and management actions that benefit the species that are most likely to need them.

For more information on IBP’s work with climate change and Sierra Nevada birds, please contact Rodney Siegel.

Photo Credits: Top of Page, Marty Frye; Right Column Top to Bottom: Larry Miller, Sara Stasi, Julio Mulero
Bird Photo

Climate change is contributing to larger and more frequent fires in California. But how does biodiversity respond to forest fire? Ecological theory predicts that the high diversity of habitats and successional states caused by some fires – termed pyrodiversity – should increase species diversity. But how long after fire does this diversity boost occur, and how does it change over time?

IBP surveyed birds at nearly 100 fires in California’s mountains over the ten years after they burned. In a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, we report that pyrodiversity increases bird diversity, and the relationship strengthens throughout the decade after fire.

Bird Photo

Promoting pyrodiversity as a forest management goal in western forests will likely become more important as climate change and a historical legacy of fire suppression may be yielding increasingly homogeneous post-fire landscapes with reduced avian diversity.


Peer-reviewed Publications

Siegel, R.B., R. Taylor, J.F. Saracco, L. Helton, and S. Stock. 2016. GPS-tracking reveals non-breeding locations and apparent molt migration of a Black-headed Grosbeak. The Journal of Field Ornithology 87:196-203. (For a copy of this publication, please contact Rodney Siegel.)

Tingley, M.W., V. Ruiz-Gutiérrez, R.L. Wilkerson, C.A. Howell, and R.B. Siegel. 2016. Pyrodiversity promotes avian diversity over the decade following forest fire. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:20161703 (published online). (For a copy of this publication, please contact Rodney Siegel.)

Siegel, R.B., P. Pyle, J.H. Thorne, A.J. Holguin, C.A. Howell, S. Stock, and M. Tingley. 2014. Vulnerability of birds to climate change in California’s Sierra Nevada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 9:7. PDF

Siegel, R.B., R.L. Wilkerson, J.F. Saracco, and Z.L. Steel. 2011. Elevation ranges of birds on the Sierra Nevada’s west slope. Western Birds 42:2-26. PDF

DeSante, D.F. 1990. The role of recruitment in the dynamics of a Sierran subalpine bird community. American Naturalist 136:429-455. (Abstract only) PDF

Other Publications and Reports

Steel, Z.L., M.L. Bond, R.B. Siegel, and P. Pyle. 2012. Avifauna of Sierra Nevada Network parks: assessing distribution, abundance, stressors, and conservation opportunities for 145 bird species (Appendix A – species accounts). Natural Resource Report NPS/SIEN/NRR—2012/506A. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO. PDF

Steel, Z.L., M.L. Bond, R.B. Siegel, and P. Pyle. 2012. Avifauna of Sierra Nevada Network parks: assessing distribution, abundance, stressors, and conservation opportunities for 145 bird species. Natural Resource Report NPS/SIEN/NRR—2012/506. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO. PDF

Nott, M.P. 2002. Climate, weather and landscape effects on landbird survival and reproductive success in Texas. Technical report to the Texas Army National Guard Command: Adjutant General's Department and U.S. Department of Defense Legacy Resources Management Program. The Institute for Bird Populations, Point Reyes Station, CA. PDF