CR 49:59-71 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/cr01007

Using life-history traits to explain bird population responses to changing weather variability

Anouk Cormont1,2,*, Claire C. Vos1, Chris A. M. van Turnhout3, Ruud P. B. Foppen3, Cajo J. F. ter Braak4

1Alterra, Wageningen UR, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
2Land Use Planning Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
3SOVON, Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology, PO Box 6521, 6503 GA Nijmegen, The Netherlands
4Biometris, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Methods, Wageningen UR, PO Box 100, 6700 AC Wageningen, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Bird population dynamics are expected to change in response to increased weather variability, an expression of climate change. The extent to which species are sensitive to effects of weather on survival and reproduction depends on their life-history traits. We investigated how breeding bird species can be grouped, based on their life-history traits and according to weather-correlated population dynamics. We developed and applied the linear trait–environment method (LTE), which is a modified version of the fourth-corner method. Despite our focus on single traits, 2 strategies—combinations of several traits—stand out. As expected, breeding populations of waterfowl species are negatively impacted by severe winters directly preceding territory monitoring, probably because of increased adult mortality. Waterfowl species combine several traits: they often breed at ground or water level, feed on plant material, are precocial and are generally short-distance or partial migrants. Furthermore, we found a decline in population growth rates of insectivorous long-distance migrants due to mild winters and warm springs in the year before territory monitoring, which may be caused by reduced reproduction due to trophic mismatches. We identify species that are expected to show the most significant responses to changing weather variability, assuming that our conclusions are based on causal relationships and that the way species, weather variables and habitat interact will not alter. Species expected to respond positively can again be roughly categorized as waterfowl species, while insectivorous long-distance migrants are mostly expected to respond negatively. As species traits play an important role in constructing functional groups that are relevant to the provisioning of ecosystem services, our study enables the incorporation of ecosystem vulnerability to climate change into such functional approaches.


KEY WORDS: Life-history trait · Bird population dynamics · Climate change · ­Linear trait–environment method · LTE · Weather variability


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Cite this article as: Cormont A, Vos CC, van Turnhout CAM, Foppen RPB, ter Braak CJF (2011) Using life-history traits to explain bird population responses to changing weather variability. Clim Res 49:59-71

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