There are projected to be more losers than winners under climate change

White-shouldered Starling © Olaf Oliviero Riemer

Results from studies across different regions show that, on average, there are projected to be more than twice as many species whose populations and distributions may decline under climate change than the number that are expected to increase. Generalist species are typically likely to increase in population and range, while specialist species are expected to decline. The magnitude of these declines is expected to increase with the severity of climate change.

Percentage of species projected to undergo range expansion or experience more suitable climate within their distributions under climate change by the end of the 21st century (‘winners’) versus range contraction or less suitable climate (‘losers’).
Huntley et al. (2008) PLoS ONE 3(1): e1439; Barbet-Massin et al. (2009) Biol. Lett. 11: doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0715 ; Hole et al. (2009) Ecol. Lett. 12: 420–431; Araujo et al. (2011) Ecol. Lett. 14: 484–492 ; Bagchi et al. (2013) Glob. Change Biol. 19: 1236–1248 ; Langham et al. (2015) PLoS ONE 10: e0135350.

Recent climate change has already caused species to shift their ranges, with many exhibiting northward shifts (Zuckerberg et al. 2009, Auer & King 2014, Environmental Protection Agency 2014, Virkkala & Lehikoinen 2014, Gillings et al. 2015) and changes in elevation (Archaux 2004, Peh 2007, Zuckerberg et al. 2009, Popy et al. 2010, Maggini et al. 2011, Forero-Medina et al. 2011, Reif & Flousek 2012, Harris et al. 2012, Auer & King 2014).

Further changes in bird distributions are expected in the future; results from studies across the globe show that, on average, there are projected to be more than twice as many species whose populations and distributions may decline under climate change by the end of the century than the number that are expected to increase (Huntley et al. 2008, Barbet-Massin et al. 2009, Hole et al. 2009, Araujo et al. 2011, Bagchi et al. 2013, Langham et al. 2015). These studies use models to determine how species distributions are expected to have changed in response to a range of climatic scenarios.

These results demonstrate the large impact climate change is expected to have on birds across the globe within the next century. In Africa, 62% of species are predicted to lose out (Hole et al. 2009), whilst in Asia it is thought that 88% of species will be negatively affected (Bagchi et al. 2013). This pattern is seen across all regions except North America, where it is predicted that 58.5% of species are expected to gain range by the end of the century (Langham et al. 2015).

This case study is taken from ‘The Messengers: What birds tell us about threats from climate change and solutions for nature and people’. To download the report in full click here


Araújo, M. B., Alagador, D., Cabeza, M., Nogués-Bravo, D. and Thuiller, W. (2011) Climate change threatens European conseration areas. Ecol. Lett. 14: 484–492.
Archaux, F. (2004) Breeding upwards when climate is becoming warmer: no bird response in the French Alps. Ibis 146: 138–144.
Auer, S. K. and King, D. I. (2014) Ecological and life-history traits explain recent boundary shifts in elevation and latitude of western North American songbirds. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23: 867–875.
Bagchi, R., Crosby, M., Huntley, B., Hole, D. G., Butchart, S. H. M., Collingham, Y., Kalra, M., Rajkumar, J., Rahmani, A., Pandey, M., Gurung, H., Trai, L-T., Quang, N. and Willis, S. G. (2013) Evaluating the effectiveness of conservation site networks under climate change: accounting for uncertainty. Glob. Change Biol. 19: 1236–1248.
Barbet-Massin, M., Walther, B. A., Thuiller, W., Rahbek, C. and Jiguet, F. (2009) Potential impacts of climate change on the winter distribution of Afro-Palaearctic migrant passerines. Biol. Lett. 5: 248–251.
Environmental Protection Agency (2014) Climate change indicators in the United States: Bird Wintering Ranges. Available at:
Forero-Medina, G., Terborgh, J., Socolar, S. J. and Pimm, S. L. (2011) Elevational ranges of birds on a tropical montane gradient lag behind warming temperatures. PLoS ONE 6: e28535.
Gillings, S., Balmer, D. E. and Fuller, R. J. (2015) Directionality of recent bird distribution shifts and climate change in Great Britain. Glob. Change Biol. 21: 2155–2168.
Harris, J. B. C., Yong, D. L., Sheldon, F. H., Boyce, A. J., Eaton, J. A., Bernard, H., Biun, A., Langevin, A., Martin, T. E. and Wei, D. (2012) Using diverse data sources to detect elevational range changes of birds on Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. Raffles B. Zool. 25: 197–247.
Hole, D. G., Willis, S. G., Pain, D. J., Fishpool, L. D., Butchart, S. H. M., Collingham, Y. C., Rahbek, C. and Huntley, B. (2009) Projected impacts of climate change on a continent-wide protected area network. Ecol. Lett. 12: 420–431.
Huntley, B., Collingham, Y. C., Willis, S. G. and Green, R. E. (2008) Potential impacts of climatic change on European breeding birds. PLoS ONE 3: e1439.
Peh, K. S. H. (2007) Potential effects of climate change elevational distributions of tripical birds in Southeast Asia. Condor 109: 437–441.
Popy, S., Bordignon, L. and Prodon, R. (2010) A weak upward elevational shift in the distributions of breeding birds in the Italian Alps. J. Biogeogr. 37: 57–67.
Reif, J. and Flousek, J. (2012) The role of species' ecological traits in climatically driven altitudinal range shifts of central European birds. Oikos 121: 1053–1060.
Langham, G. M., Schuetz, J. G., Distler, T., Soykan, C. U. and Wilsey, C. (2015) Conservation status of North American birds in the face of future climate change. PLoS ONE 10: e0135350.
Maggini, R., Lehmann A., Kéry, M., Schmid, H., Beniston, M., Jenni, L. and Zbinden, N. (2011) Are Swiss birds tracking climate change? Detecting elevational shifts using response curve shapes. Ecol. Model. 222: 21–32.
Virkkala, R. and Lehikoinen, A. (2014) Patterns of climate-induced density shifts of species: poleward shifts faster in northern boreal birds than in southern birds. Glob. Change Biol. 20: 2995–3003.
Zuckerberg, B., Woods, A. M. and Porter, W. F. (2009) Poleward shifts in breeding bird distributions in New York State. Glob. Change Biol. 15: 1866–1883.

Compiled: 2015    Copyright: 2015   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2015) There are projected to be more losers than winners under climate change. Downloaded from on 19/03/2018

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