Helping to fill a major knowledge gap on Asian birds, a new study finds that many species in this region would suffer under climate change, which would force them to shift their ranges to keep up. It also highlights the need to strengthen and adapt conservation efforts to sustain bird populations.

The study explores climate change impacts on 370 Asian bird species of conservation concern within two Asian biodiversity hotspots: the Eastern Himalaya and Lower Mekong. The two hotspots encompass parts of India and Nepal, as well as Bhutan, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The research then forecasts the likelihood that Important Bird Area networks will maintain suitable climate for these species. This reveals that at least 45% and perhaps as many as 88% of these bird species will lose some of their area of suitable climate. In response, birds species are expected to die out in some areas and recolonise new ones. However, the study authors say, “We expect there to be 24 times as many ‘losers’ as ‘winners’ in terms of bird species losing or gaining habitat in the future.”

Even under the least extreme scenarios of climate change, most species would need to shift their ranges to keep up.  (This is known as ‘niche tracking’; as the climate warms or otherwise changes, species are expected to shift to track their climate tolerances.) Birds in the Lower Mekong region were more negatively affected than those in Eastern Himalaya.

Nevertheless, the overall Important Bird Area network is expected  to retain suitable climate for all species in future. This indicates that conservation efforts will need to be stepped up at important sites for birds, and the wider countryside managed to help birds disperse across the landscape between different conservation sites.

A 2009 study on an African Important Bird Area network also projected major range shifts for birds, while highlighting the importance of “rigorously defined networks of protected areas” under climate change.

Evaluating the effectiveness of conservation site networks under climate change: accounting for uncertainty. Global Change Biology.
Birds may need a hand to weather climate change. Durham University news.
Projected impacts of climate change on a continent-wide protected area network. Ecology Letters.