Bird habitats shifting North with warming climate

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Central Nebraska, (KSNB) A study released in late June by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has found some interesting conclusions regarding environmental changes seen from a bird's-eye view. The researchers pulled data from well over 40 years' worth of observation of over 400 bird species. The area covered was a 250-mile-wide swath from Texas to North Dakota.

Recent studies from UNL show that over 400 species of birds are shifting north as ecosystems expand northward with a correlation to warming climates.

Many of the northern bird populations have spread further north at a much faster rate than more southern species, but all show a northward trend.

Craig Allen and his colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln analyzed data from a national survey that tracks bird populations between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada. Bird behavior suggests ecosystems ..communities of plants and animals…are also shifting north. "This front of invasion as we picked up as moving regime boundaries, has moved from 1966 being in central or southern Kansas, in 50 years, it’s moved into southern Nebraska."

This sort of information can be an early herald of ecosystem collapse. "We can potentially provide years and even decades of early warning to places that this regime change is coming. People can adapt and mitigate and plan."

On a small scale, human activity and practices can impact the environment, like land and water use, but this shifting is a much larger scale. A warmer climate across the Central Great Plains is considered to be a large, but not lone, factor according to Allen. "There’s probably multiple causations. But the directional change that’s happening is really consistent with climate driven change."

The greater northern shift of bird populations supports another aspect of a warming climate. This is typically referred to as "Arctic Amplification," in which the cold, Arctic regions warm more quickly than Mid-Latitude and Equatorial regions. Other supporting factors are present, such as urbanization, agricultural land conversion, invasive species, and even wildfire trends. Allen expressed that all these factors are closely related to one another, and it is difficult to isolate any one aspect.

There are some practices which can provide mitigation of changing ecosystems. Invasive species such as the eastern red cedar can be eliminated through burning. The impact these trees have is they encroach on native grasslands and can expand the sparse woodlands across the state.

Video for this story provided courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

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