New state bird guide highlights climate change risk

March 6, 2012 2:03:43 PM PST
If the climate continues to warm and development doesn't slow down, the first avian calamities are likely to the California black rail, the California and Yuma clapper rails, and a few species of coastal song sparrows.

In the first study of its kind, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, an environmental bird organization, and the California Department of Fish and Game have created a guide prioritizing bird species most at risk from climate change.

The study was published Friday in the journal Public Library of Science.

According to the researchers, it is well known that climate change and rising sea levels pose a threat to sensitive bird populations, but this information is generally not included in lists identifying endangered or at-risk bird populations.

"It's hard to look into the future and see what's going to happen," said Tom Gardali, the study's lead author and an ecologist with the Point Reyes organization. "How do you list a species, or raise its priority, with so much uncertainty?"

But with the Department of Fish and Game rewriting its state wildlife action plan's guiding document addressing conservation and protection of vulnerable species -- and growing recognition that climate change is happening -- the researchers felt obligated to do something.

To address the issue, they looked at a variety of predictions for habitat type, vulnerabilities such as a species' food needs and its ability to disperse and move, as well as other behaviors and habitat needs.

And not surprisingly, Gardali said, the birds that rose to the top of the list in terms of risk were those that required the resources provided by the most vulnerable habitats, such as wetlands and coastal areas.

"This is really pivotal research that will help us plan for mitigating the effects of climate change," said Amber Pairis, climate change adviser for the Department of Fish and Game. Pairis said the state agency is building similar lists for rare plant species, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

She said the study and guide provide a platform for allowing climate change to become part of conservation discussions and not treated as a separate topic or chapter.

"This study has done a really great job at highlighting and underscoring the department's commitment to conserving these resources and the public trust," she said.

Pairis was not an author of the study.

"Lists of at-risk species like ours are simply a first step," said Nat Seavy, a co-author and Point Reyes Bird Observatory researcher. "Now conservationists and resource managers need to use the list and other resources to identify how best to spend limited conservation dollars to benefit birds, other wildlife and human communities."

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)


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