Cross-border conservation vital to protect birds in a climate-change world


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 species.

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 picture.

"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 protecting species."

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 emigration:
Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park (South Africa) – 79% turnover
Hobatere (Namibia) – ensemble turnover 70%

Areas of little change:
Kilombero Valley (Tanzania) – 95% persistence
Waza National Park (Cameroon) – 98% persistence




Dr. David Hole
Climate Change Researcher
Conservation International

For interviews, please contact:
Patricia Yakabe Malentaqui
International Media Manager: 
+1 703-341-2471 / + 1 571 225 8345 

Dr. Stephen Willis
School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Durham University
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41379

For interviews, please contact:
Carl Stiansen
Media Relations Officer
Durham University
+44 (0)191 334 6077  / +44 (0)191 334 6075

Dr. Stuart Butchart
Global Research and Indicators Coordinator
BirdLife International

For interviews with BirdLife International, please contact:
Martin Fowlie
+44 (0)1223 279813

South Africa
Professor Brian Huntley
School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Durham University
is currently working in Cape Town, South Africa

For interviews, please contact:
Dr. Phoebe Barnard
Climate Change & BioAdaptation Division
Birds & Environmental Change Programme
South African National Biodiversity Institute
+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 available:
1/Tractrac Chat - panting in the shade
2/ Secretary Bird - simulated to disappear from Namibia
3/ Namib Naukloft Park, Namibia, persistence 96%
4/ Sociable weaver
5/ Sociable weaver nest colony
6/ Flamingos congregating at Etosha pan, Namibia
Copyright: Dr. Stephen Willis, Durham University

High-resolution .jpeg images of Dr. Stephen Willis are also available.
Please contact:
Durham University Media Relations Office
Telephone: +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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