California Fires Not the Only Thing Hurting Communities in California

Communities of all sorts are being disturbed by the fires in California. As another result of climate change, bird communities are expected to see some big changes in other ways, according to a new report released on September 1.

According to the new study, to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE, climate change may cause a “rapid development of novel species assemblages that challenge the capacity of species to co-exist and adapt.” What does this mean? It means that because birds will be relocating to follow the changes in climate and weather, there will be new communities of birds living together and interacting in the same “neighborhood” in nature. The new neighbors are unlikely to just all get along well, as they have little experience living in the same ecosystem.

Imagine a ton of people from all over the place converging on your neighborhood. How do you think you all would deal with it?

As the article states: “current community dynamics such as predator-prey or competitive interactions may become affected as species assemblages are reshuffled in new ways. New species interactions that develop within these no-analog assemblages may result in the decline or extirpation of species as they adjust or adapt to changing climates, especially when the climate is changing at a rapid rate.” Whole species may disappear because of this abrupt reshuffling.

Even the authors of the study, who expected changes, were suprised at what they found. As the lead author, PRBO Landscape Ecologist Diana Stralberg, says: “We were surprised to see such a wide range of responses across the species we studied. We know that many species may shift their distributions in response to climate change, but these results suggest that the cumulative effect on community composition may be of equal or greater importance.”

The authors can’t know how species will interact if they mix together in new neighborhoods at such a rate, but species loss is definitely one option. “The novel communities that result from distributional shifts may persist as species adapt or coexist, or they may undergo further change as species are excluded through competition, predation, or other biotic interactions.”

Conservation will be especially pressed as it tries to deal with these changes. Conservation and nature management will see challenges never seen before. “The likely emergence of novel, no-analog communities over the coming decades presents enormous conservation and management challenges. Managers and conservationists will be faced with difficult choices about how, where, and on which species to prioritize their efforts and investments.” As the report states, entirely new approaches will be needed for this entirely new challenge. “Traditional management approaches that focus on maintaining the status quo will not likely be successful; novel approaches will be needed to manage novel communities.”

For maps of how the various bird species are expected to rearrange themselves, go to the California Avian Data homepage and click on the tab that says “Where will the birds be?” — you can view maps for all different types of birds, as well as for vegetation and climate.

Image Credit 1: Erik Charlton via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 2: rbrucemontgomery via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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