London – Countries need to increase co-operation over
conservation to protect birds and other wildlife in an era of climate change,
according to a new continental-scale study.
Experts have established a new conservation index to help policy-makers to
deal with the effects of climate change on birds in Africa, and it could assist
governments across the world to protect wildlife areas and help species as
climate change forces them to move to new areas.
It is the first categorisation of protected areas to show how
conservationists might deal with climate change and the shuffling of the
distribution of wildlife species that it will cause. The new tool offers
policy-makers essential information to allow them to manage and adapt habitats
in coming decades.
An international research team led by Professor Brian Huntley and Dr. Stephen
Willis, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, looked
at how native African bird species will fare in 803 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the
continent, if climate change continues as predicted. Birds are a key indicator
for conservationists because they respond quickly to change and are relatively
easily monitored. IBAs are sites of highest conservation importance for birds,
some of which, but by no means all, are existing protected areas.
The team looked at projected future ranges of species of birds and how these
coincide with the current network of priority bird sites across Africa. They
predict that one third of the IBAs will undergo significant upheaval this
century, in terms of the species they contain, due to climate change.
The study shows that there are substantial geographical gaps in the current
conservation network and that international cooperation is essential to protect
The team produced a series of climate adaptation strategies, which provides a
template for action across Africa. It could assist the movement of birds
threatened by shrinking habitat and food supplies, across distances of up to
hundreds of kilometres, to new climatically-suitable areas. Importantly, the
team also highlighted those areas of Africa that are currently unprotected but
which could prove crucial in saving species that would fail to be protected in
the present IBA network.
The research, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB),
and published in the journal Conservation Biology, suggests that hundreds of
bird species in Africa will become emigrants, leaving one part of the continent
for another in search of food and suitable habitat.
Co-author of the paper, Dr. Stephen Willis, School of Biological and
Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, said: "The bird map of Africa is set to
change dramatically and we need conservation policies that see the bigger
"There are large areas of Africa lacking protected status and many of these
areas are predicted to be critically important for bird conservation in the
future. We need to be ready to protect remnant populations of birds while also
preparing for new colonists.
"We need to improve monitoring, communication and co-operation to make
protected areas work across borders. Conservationists and policy makers will
have to work together in new ways as networks become increasingly important in
Researchers used climate change projections from the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change to simulate impacts on African birds over the next
100 years for each of the IBAs and identified which areas could be expected to
sustain which bird species.
The results show that the continent will undergo considerable change with
areas such as the southern African tropical zone (stretching from Namibia and
Angola to Mozambique and Tanzania) projected to have high numbers of both
emigrant and colonising species.
Dr. Stuart Butchart, Global Research and Indicators Coordinator at research
partner BirdLife International, said: "Many areas
that are likely to become increasingly important are currently under-protected.
Fast-tracking protected-area status for places such as Brandberg and Hobatere in
Namibia and managing them appropriately could help species to survive and adapt
to climate change.
"Cooperation across borders to preserve and adapt areas so that birds and
other wildlife can survive as their habitats change and shift will be essential
to conserve biodiversity and maintain the ecosystem services that will help
people and communities adapt to climate change."
Some protected areas will be able to maintain a business-as-usual management
regime, whilst others will need a new way of working, often across international
borders to conserve different species. Increasing the size of the currently
protected areas is a potential solution but difficult to enact. The research
team believes that other solutions could have positive results.
Dr. David Hole, Climate Change Researcher with research partner,
Conservation International, said: "Policy action to encourage practices
that will make it easier for species to move through the wider landscape will be
critical, such as conservation-friendly farming and agroforestry, to ensure
species can reach newly climatically suitable areas as climate changes."
"There's a real opportunity here since these types of measures, together with
adaptive management of existing Important Bird Areas could not only aid
conservation but also help to mitigate climate change by conserving or restoring
natural habitats, as well as guiding us to preferred localities for climate
mitigation schemes. It's about trying to find those win-win situations."
Winners and losers
Areas of High turnover, i.e. high immigration and
Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park (South Africa) – 79%
Hobatere (Namibia) – ensemble turnover 70%
Areas of little change:
Kilombero Valley (Tanzania) – 95%
Waza National Park (Cameroon) – 98% persistence
Dr. David Hole
Climate Change Researcher
interviews, please contact:
International Media Manager:
+1 703-341-2471 / + 1 571 225
Dr. Stephen Willis
School of Biological and Biomedical
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41379
For interviews, please contact:
+44 (0)191 334 6077 / +44 (0)191 334
Dr. Stuart Butchart
Global Research and Indicators Coordinator
For interviews with BirdLife International, please
+44 (0)1223 279813
Professor Brian Huntley
School of Biological and
is currently working in Cape
Town, South Africa
For interviews, please contact:
Dr. Phoebe Barnard
Climate Change & BioAdaptation Division
& Environmental Change Programme
South African National Biodiversity
+27 21 799 8722 / +27 83 562 8238
Note for broadcasters:
Durham University has an ISDN line
on site. Please contact the Media Office on
+44 (0)191 334 6077 to arrange
interviews. The ISDN number is +44 (0)191 386 2749.
Durham University is 30
minutes from BBC and independent TV and radio studios. Sky News has a studio
based in Durham.
High-resolution Jpeg images of African birds are
1/Tractrac Chat - panting in the shade
2/ Secretary Bird -
simulated to disappear from Namibia
3/ Namib Naukloft Park, Namibia,
4/ Sociable weaver
5/ Sociable weaver nest colony
Flamingos congregating at Etosha pan, Namibia
Copyright: Dr. Stephen Willis,
High-resolution .jpeg images of Dr. Stephen Willis are also available.
Durham University Media Relations
+44 (0)191 334 6077
Note for editors:
"Toward a management framework for networks of
protected areas in the face of climate change" is published by: Conservation
Biology, Wiley-Blackwell, John Wiley & Sons. The full research paper is
available in PDF by request.
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