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 bird populations.
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. Results suggested that some of these species may respond to climate change in the region with population increases or range expansions.
A 2019 IBP study
used 24 years of bird banding data from MAPS stations [LINK] in Yosemite National Park to see how the timing of breeding and breeding productivity of 25 bird species changed in response to a changing climate. Birds seemed to track the changing climate fairly well, breeding earlier in years with warmer springs and less snowpack. Species whose ranges are known to have shifted upslope during the past century generally had higher productivity at higher compared to lower elevations. Many species also produced more young as spring temperatures increased and snowpack melted sooner; possibly because of earlier and greater insect abundance. This is mostly good news, but there is almost certainly a limit where conditions become too warm and too dry and begin to have negative impacts on breeding.
Results of these two studies, as well as IBP’s ongoing work on birds, climate, fire, and forest management, will 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, Ed Brownson; Right Column: Kelly Colgan Azar.