Using life-history traits to explain bird population responses to changing weather variability

A. Cormont, C.C. Vos, C.A.M. van Turnhout, R.P.B. Foppen, C.J.F. ter Braak

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Bird population dynamics are expected to change in response to increased weather variability, an expression of climate change. The extent to which species are sensitive to effects of weather on survival and reproduction depends on their life-history traits. We investigated how breeding bird species can be grouped, based on their life-history traits and according to weather-correlated population dynamics. We developed and applied the linear trait–environment method (LTE), which is a modified version of the fourth-corner method. Despite our focus on single traits, 2 strategies—combinations of several traits—stand out. As expected, breeding populations of waterfowl species are negatively impacted by severe winters directly preceding territory monitoring, probably because of increased adult mortality. Waterfowl species combine several traits: they often breed at ground or water level, feed on plant material, are precocial and are generally short-distance or partial migrants. Furthermore, we found a decline in population growth rates of insectivorous long-distance migrants due to mild winters and warm springs in the year before territory monitoring, which may be caused by reduced reproduction due to trophic mismatches. We identify species that are expected to show the most significant responses to changing weather variability, assuming that our conclusions are based on causal relationships and that the way species, weather variables and habitat interact will not alter. Species expected to respond positively can again be roughly categorized as waterfowl species, while insectivorous long-distance migrants are mostly expected to respond negatively. As species traits play an important role in constructing functional groups that are relevant to the provisioning of ecosystem services, our study enables the incorporation of ecosystem vulnerability to climate change into such functional approaches
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-71
JournalClimate Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • climate-change
  • 4th-corner problem
  • species traits
  • migratory bird
  • consequences
  • netherlands
  • temperatures
  • adaptations
  • resilience
  • habitats


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