Impact of Climate Change on Migratory Birds: Community Reassembly Versus Adaptation

Hans-Christian Schaefer, Walter Jetz and Katrin Böhning-Gaese
Posted on: 1/30/2008 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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Aim: Species can respond to global climate change by range shifts or by phenotypic adaptation. At the community level, range shifts lead to a turnover of species, i.e. community reassembly. In contrast, phenotypic adaptation allows species to persist in situ, conserving community composition. So far, community reassembly and adaptation have mostly been studied separately. In nature, however, both processes take place simultaneously. In migratory birds, climate change has been shown to result in both exchange of species and adaptation of migratory behaviour. The aim of our study is to predict the impact of global climate change on migratory bird communities and to assess the extent to which reassembly and adaptation may contribute to alterations.

Location: Europe.

Methods: The authors analysed the relationship between current climate and the proportion of migratory species across bird assemblages in Europe. The magnitude of community reassembly was measured using spatial variation in the proportion of potentially migratory species. Adaptation was inferred from spatial variation in the proportion of potentially migratory species that actually migrate at a specific site. These spatial relationships were used to make temporal predictions of changes in migratory species under global climate change.

Results: According to the models, increasing winter temperature is expected to lead to declines in the proportion of migratory species, whereas increasing spring temperature and decreasing spring precipitation may lead to increases. Changes in winter and spring temperature are expected to cause mainly adaptation in migratory activity, while changes in spring precipitation may result in both changes in the proportion of potentially migratory species and adaptation of migratory activity.

Main conclusions: Under current climate change forecasts, changes in the proportion of migratory species will be modest and the communities of migratory birds in Europe are projected to be altered through adaptation of migratory activity rather than through exchange of species.


Schaefer, H. C., Jetz, W., & Böhning-Gaese, K. (2008). Impact of climate change on migratory birds: Community reassembly versus adaptation. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 38-49. Retrieved from CAKE