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Informing conservation by identifying range shift patterns across breeding habitats and migration strategies

  • Hovick, Torre J.1
  • Allred, Brady W.2
  • McGranahan, Devan A.1
  • Palmer, Michael W.3
  • Dwayne Elmore, R.4
  • Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.4
  • 1 North Dakota State University, School of Natural Resource Sciences-Range Program, Fargo, ND, 58108, USA , Fargo (United States)
  • 2 The University of Montana, College of Forestry and Conservation, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT, 59812, USA , Missoula (United States)
  • 3 Oklahoma State University, Department of Botany, 301 Physical Sciences, Stillwater, OK, 74078, USA , Stillwater (United States)
  • 4 Oklahoma State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Stillwater, OK, 74078, USA , Stillwater (United States)
Published Article
Biodiversity and Conservation
Publication Date
Jan 28, 2016
DOI: 10.1007/s10531-016-1053-6
Springer Nature


A species distribution combines the resources and climatic tolerances that allow an individual or population to persist. As these conditions change, one mechanism to maintain favorable resources is for an organism to shift its range. Much of the research examining range shifts has focused on dynamic distribution boundaries wheras the role of species breeding habitat or migration strategies on shift tendencies has received less attention. We expand on previous research by using a large suite of avian species (i.e., 277), analyzing observed abundance-weighted average latitudes, and categorizing species by breeding environment and migration strategy. We used the North American Breeding Bird Survey dataset to address two questions: (1) Has the center of observed abundance for individual species shifted latitudinally? (2) Is there a relationship between migration strategy or breeding habitat and range shifts? Results indicate the majority of species have experienced poleward range shifts over the last 43 years, and birds breeding in all habitat showed trends of poleward shift but only those species breeding in scrub-shrub and grassland environments were different from zero. Additionally, species that are short distance migrants are experiencing significant poleward shifts while Neotropical and permanent residents had shifts that were not different from zero. Our findings do support the general trend expected from climate driven changes (i.e., > 52 % shifting poleward), however, the proportion of species exhibiting equatorial shifts (24 %) or no significant shifts (23 %) illustrates the complex interplay between land cover, climate, species interactions, and other forces that can interact to influence breeding ranges over time. Regardless of the mechanisms driving range shifts, our findings emphasize the need for connecting and expanding habitats for those species experiencing range shifts. This research describes the patterns of breeding birds through central North America and we encourage future research to focus on the mechanisms driving these patterns.

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