Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability of Grassland Birds Using Demographically Informed Species Distribution Models

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 3:30pm
Eastern Standard Time
Ben Zuckerberg, Christine Ribic, Lisa McCauley

Grassland ecosystems originally dominated central North America but have been extensively altered by agriculture, fire suppression, and urbanization. These land use changes are not occurring in isolation, and grassland systems are experiencing rapid and unprecedented changes in temperature and precipitation. Modern land use and climate change represent critical threats to many grassland-dependent fauna, but there is little information on the sensitivity of grassland birds to climatic variability and which populations are most vulnerable to future climate change. We developed a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment approach to quantify demographic sensitivities of a grassland obligate ─Henslow’s sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) ─to climate variability and the potential impacts of future climate change on populations throughout the species’ ranges. To do so, we worked with a group of experts to create a demographic database of demographic rates and linked those rates to climate parameters using demographically-informed species distribution models. We found that the demographic niche of Henslow’s sparrows, as defined by breeding season temperature and precipitation, will contract to their western peripheral range by the mid-century, and that many populations will be exposed to climatic conditions unfavorable for population persistence.   

Benjamin Zuckerberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His research interests focus on advancing the field of climate change ecology by studying the impact of climate change on natural systems. His lab studies the synergistic effects of land use and climate change on wildlife populations from local to national scales.

Christine Ribic is currently Unit Leader of the US Geological Survey, Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit.  Her research interests include grassland bird conservation at the landscape scale, climate change, and spatial analysis. 

Lisa McCauley is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include modeling the effect of land use change and climate change on natural habitats, species distributions, and organism dispersal.