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Grey Partridge is one of the more specialised bird species that are in a popualtion nose-dive at rpesent, due in part at least to the rising average temperature. Photo: Steve Garvie (
Grey Partridge is one of the more specialised bird species that are in a popualtion nose-dive at rpesent, due in part at least to the rising average temperature. Photo: Steve Garvie ( image

Too hot for specialists

Posted on: 20 Jul 2011

BTO research has shown that the changing climate has increased bird diversity, but is losing us the more specialised species.

The latest research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), just published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, shows that the diversity of Britain’s birds has increased with a warming climate, but this was accompanied by a loss of habitat specialists.

Using Breeding Bird Survey data from 1994 onwards, scientists at the BTO found that recent temperature increases had a positive effect on the number of bird species. However, rising temperatures also had a negative effect on species with specific habitat requirements or ‘specialists’.

It appears that the winners from recent climate change were already common habitat generalists that have expanded their ranges, likely at the expense of habitat specialists such as the Grey Partridge and Corn Bunting, which have declined by 50 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively, over the period of the study.

Overall, this means that with climate change, bird communities across Britain are becoming more similar to each other as vulnerable range-restricted species are outcompeted by more resilient common species. In other words, a warming climate homogenises bird communities across the landscape, despite greater species diversity.

Co-author Alison Johnston, BTO, commented: " This study is one of the few which has looked at the overall impact of recent climate change upon bird communities, and the first such assessment for Britain. It provides stark evidence of the impact that climate change has already had on the birds we see arround us. The winners are those species that are already common and widespread, while more specialised, rarer species have lost out. While most studies on the impact of climate change on bird communities in Britain have focused on single species, this is one of the first to explore how future climate change may continue to impact on bird communities across a large spatial scale.”


Davey, C M, Chamberlain, D M, Newson, S E, Noble, D G and Johnston, A. 2011. Rise of the generalists: evidence for climate driven homogenization in avian communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography  DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00693.x.


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