The potential impacts of climate change on the migration of birds

Christine Howard (1), Philip A. Stephens (2), Joseph A. Tobias (3), Uri Roll (4) and Stephen G. Willis (5)

1 Durham University, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK,  christine.howard@durham.ac.uk, @_choward

2 Durham University, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK,  philip.stephens@durham.ac.uk, @PS_Applied_Ecol

3 Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, SL57PY, UK, j.tobias@imperial.ac.uk, @ja_tobias

4 The Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, Tinbergen Building, University of Oxford, South Parks

Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK, uri.roll@zoo.ox.ac.uk

5 Durham University, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK,  s.g.willis@durham.ac.uk, @SWillis_Durham

Future climate change poses a substantial challenge for migratory species. Polewards shifts in breeding ranges, and less consistent directional shifts in non-breeding areas, mean that migratory distances are likely to increase for many species in future. It is unclear whether migrants will be capable of meeting the physiological challenges of these increased migrations. Although attempts have been made to quantify changing migratory distances for some bird species, the physiological and temporal constraints of extended migrations have not been explored to date. Here, we use individual species’ morphological data in flight range equations to estimate maximum potential flight ranges for 150 species of short and long-distance European breeding migratory bird. By combining these ranges with estimated distances between predicted future breeding and non-breeding ranges, and considering refuelling stop-overs, we can infer how species might have to adapt their migratory strategies under climate change. We predict changes to the minimum duration of these migrations, potentially promoting phenological mismatches between birds and required resources at migratory end-points. We also predict that increases in migration distance will necessitate the use of additional stop-over sites, sometimes in unfavourable areas; in some cases, this will lead to migrants taking substantially longer to complete their journeys. We show that changing migratory requirements will add to the challenges of future changes in breeding and non-breeding ranges.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.


Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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