Bad News for Birds

Climate change could kill 400-550 land-bird species by 2100, according to research published this week in the journal Conservation Biology.

The study, from Stanford University and Duke University researchers, says that worst-case climate change scenarios "could cause up to 30 percent of land-bird species to go extinct worldwide" by the end of the century.

This massive die-off -- 30% of all land-bird species -- would be sparked by "vegetational shift." Plants are expected to adapt to climate change by moving to new, more hospitable climates. The birds would then follow their food, but according to the research, many bird species might not be able to adapt to their the new habitats.

The first problem, according to the research, is topography: "Each bird species is only found between specific elevations, limits based mainly on the temperatures at which it can survive and the presence of the plants, insects and other animals on which it feeds."

The second problem is pure geometry. As birds move upland, and especially as they move further up mountain ranges, the amount of territory available to them shrinks. With too little room to live, the number of birds shrinks. And then species start dying off.

According to the study's lead author, Cagan Sekercioglu, "Of the land-bird species predicted to go extinct, 79 percent of them are not currently considered threatened with extinction, but many will be if we cannot stop climate change."

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