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State of the Birds Report

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Addressing Uncertainty

Understanding How Birds Respond to Change

Northern Pintail by John Bedell

We live in a rapidly changing global environment. Because of differing emission scenarios, climate predictions, and ecosystem models, we may not be able to accurately predict the future, other than knowing we face an uncertain but certainly altered future climate. Successful conservation will require that solutions address the likelihood of our altered environment strategically and not be paralyzed by it.

Uncertainty can be reduced by developing and implementing effective programs to monitor how birds respond to climate change. Climate change in combination with numerous threats is creating environments not previously experienced by birds. Monitoring data are invaluable in making informed decisions in a changing world. We have limited information about many of the species that are most vulnerable to climate change--birds that live in the oceans, in the arctic and alpine habitats, and along the coasts. Focusing monitoring on species that show the highest potential vulnerability will provide the most relevant indicator of how birds are adapting to environmental change.

Without additional information on how birds are responding to the effects of climate change, we will be unable to adjust our conservation and management strategies. Well-designed monitoring systems will also be needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies used to counteract effects of climate change on bird populations.

Bird monitoring is usually a passive indicator of change, without providing knowledge regarding causes or possible responses to change. It is important, of course, to know when bird populations are declining and require conservation attention, but the designs of most existing monitoring programs have limited utility in interpreting system change and the response of birds, and must therefore be improved. We recommend that the nation’s current monitoring programs be modified to:

• Improve the design of many monitoring programs to allow analysis separating the influence of climate change on population changes from impacts caused by other environmental factors, as well as synergistic interactions between climate and other factors affecting birds.

• Focus on the status of species most sensitive to climate change.

• Design and use monitoring systems and information to inform conservation
and land management decisions.


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