Climate change and population declines in a long-distance migratory bird

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From: Nature(Vol. 441, Issue 7089)
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,918 words
Lexile Measure: 1520L

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Author(s): Christiaan Both (corresponding author) [1, 2]; Sandra Bouwhuis [1, 3]; C. M. Lessells [1]; Marcel E. Visser [1]

Phenological responses to climate change differ across trophic levels [1, 2, 3], which may lead to birds failing to breed at the time of maximal food abundance. Here we investigate the population consequences of such mistiming in the migratory pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca [4]. In a comparison of nine Dutch populations, we find that populations have declined by about 90% over the past two decades in areas where the food for provisioning nestlings peaks early in the season and the birds are currently mistimed. In areas with a late food peak, early-breeding birds still breed at the right time, and there is, at most, a weak population decline. If food phenology advances further, we also predict population declines in areas with a late food peak, as in these areas adjustment to an advanced food peak is insufficient [4]. Mistiming as a result of climate change is probably a widespread phenomenon [1], and here we provide evidence that it can lead to population declines.

Ongoing climate change leaves a clear global fingerprint on ecosystems. Many organisms bring forward the timing of their seasonal activities, whether it be flowering in plants, budding of trees, emergence of insects or breeding in birds [5, 6, 7]. Despite this general advancement, some species may not cope with climate change because their response differs from the response of organisms at lower levels of the food chain [1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9], leading to a mismatch between the timing of reproduction and the main food supply [10]. This mistiming can have a clear effect on species population dynamics and ecosystem functioning [2, 11]. In general, we expect the populations that are most mistimed to decline most in number. Here we show how populations of a small passerine bird have declined as a consequence of climate change, because the phenology of their main food supply during breeding has advanced more than the birds' breeding date.

We studied the population ecology of the long-distance migratory passerine, the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca , and its caterpillar food supply. We have previously shown in this long-term study in the Netherlands that the flycatchers have advanced their laying date but not the timing of their spring arrival in the Netherlands, and that the advancement in laying date was not sufficient to track the advancement of spring, leading to increased selection for early breeding [4]. The temperate forest habitat of our study area is characterized by a clear peak in caterpillar abundance in spring, and caterpillars are an important food source for nestling flycatchers [12, 13]. The timing of this caterpillar peak differs between areas (see Supplementary Information) and years, with a clear shift forward over the past 20 years in our main study population [14].

We predicted that areas with increased mismatch between the timing of the birds and the peak availability of their prey would show a strong population decline. To test this...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A185452228