Full Annual Cycle Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment For Migratory Birds of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region

Leah Culp
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 7/18/2022

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CakeX Site Admin


Climate change is a serious challenge faced by all flora and fauna on earth. Climate vulnerability analyses are one method to assess risk and are increasingly used as a tool to inform management plans. Ideally, risk should be assessed throughout an animal’s entire annual cycle, but migratory animals move across vast regions and can be difficult to track. Consequently, the challenge of conducting comprehensive full annual life cycle analyses has not been well addressed. Here, we developed a method to assess full annual cycle vulnerability to climate change for 46 species of migratory birds that breed in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region (UMGL). Our methodology included background risk, climate exposure × climate sensitivity, adaptive capacity to climate change, and indirect effects of climate change. Where possible, we used USGS capture-recapture data and conducted literature searches to determine migratory connectivity. Climate vulnerability was then assessed using the UMGL breeding season climate and winter climate from linked non-breeding regions for each species. We ranked nine species as “highly vulnerable to climate change” (Red-necked Grebe, Forster’s Tern, Black Tern, Caspian Tern, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Rusty Blackbird) and two as having “low vulnerability” (Killdeer and Red-winged Blackbird). In general, vulnerability was driven by poor adaptive capacity to climate change, specifically high breeding site fidelity. Such species may be slow to disperse or expand their range in response to climate change. Projected drying will have its greatest effect on vulnerability in the Mexican and Caribbean non-breeding regions while projected temperature increases will have their greatest effect on the UMGL breeding grounds and South American non-breeding grounds. We identified nine species that were vulnerable to temperature and/or moisture change throughout their annual cycle (Upland Sandpiper, Black Tern, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Acadian Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Orchard Oriole). All but one of these are considered species of conservation concern in the UMGL. Finally, we provide guidance to how our approach could be applied to adaptive management, including identifying: priority species and habitat types, regions within the non-breeding range for potential conservation partnerships, and research gaps.


Adaptation Phase
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy