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China’s rare birds may move north as the climate changes, new data suggest

China’s rare birds may move north as the climate changes, new data suggest
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Researchers have used such citizen science data from bird lovers before, but experts say this study is the first in China to use it on a nationwide scale. One of the highlights of this paper is really the use of the citizen science data set for research and conservation purposes, says Jimmy Choi, an ecologist at Southern University of Science and Technology who was not involved in the study.

Using those data, Ruocheng Hu of Peking University and colleagues created distribution range maps for more than 1000 species. They then modeled what may happen to their ranges under two warming scenarios, one in which global temperatures rise by less than 2C by 2100, and a worst case scenario in which temperatures increase by 3.7C or more. The model, which includes variables such as daily and monthly temperatures, seasonal rainfall, and elevation, found that , the researchers report this month in

PLOS ONE

. Although nearly 800 species will enjoy expanded ranges, most of those ranges are in heavily populated and industrialized areas unsuitable for birds. Roughly 240 species will see their ranges shrink.

Migratory birds and birds found only in China will be particularly hard hit. In particular, the iconic red-crowned crane will lose half of its territory nationwide, the authors say. The existing national nature reserves are not sufficient for protecting important bird habitats, especially after range shifts, the authors write. To counter such losses, they have identified 14 priority areas for new conservation preserves scattered across the county.

This is a great paper with a lot of data, says Amal Borze, a behavioral ecologist at Nanjing Forestry University, who is not a co-author. He says the paper will be very useful for conservation, especially because the establishment of protected areas in China is generally science-based. But creating new preserves will still face challenges. Local stakeholders will have to be convinced, and there will limitations on how much space can be carved out of crowded regions. The authors suggest China will need to explore innovative approaches such as making urban parks and farmlands more bird-friendly.
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