Impacts of climate change on the community compositions and diversity of the world’s terrestrial birds

Dr Alke Voskamp1

1Senckenberg Biodiversity And Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt, Germany

Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and impacts on species distributions are already evident across a wide array of taxa. Species have been found to typically shift their ranges towards higher latitudes and altitudes, but species’ abiotic tolerances and dispersal abilities can lead to individualistic responses to climate change. These heterogeneous responses are likely to reshuffle species communities and could have profound consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Potential impacts on species communities include changes to the competitive balance and trait composition as well as their phylogenetic diversity (PD). Under the assumption that the loss of PD implicates a reduction in the evolutionary potential of a community and thus decreases the likelihood of its future persistence, this could be an additional threat making communities increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

Here, I compare the impacts of a low climate change scenario versus a high climate change scenario on terrestrial bird distributions and, subsequently, species diversity. I use species distribution models, incorporating species specific traits, for the worlds’ terrestrial birds to project range changes and derive current and future community compositions. I show that individualistic responses to climate change are widespread across the globe, causing a global reshuffling of community compositions as well as the formation of novel species communities. Areas where diversity patterns (community compositions, species richness and PD) are changed markedly by the mid-century are significantly reduced, under the low compared to the high warming scenario, highlighting the importance of keeping global warming to a minimum level.


I am currently a PostDoc at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, where my work focuses on understanding how future climate and land-use change interactively affect global vertebrate diversity. I have a PhD in Biological Sciences from Durham University. My thesis work focused on assessing species risk under climate change at a global scale, identifying gaps in our current strategies for targeting and protecting threatened biodiversity, and in the development of optimised conservation strategies informed by these results.

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