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Birds to become latest global warming indicators

Conservation in the face of climate change

Birds have long been used as indicators of the state of the world’s ecosystems, providing insights into habitat loss, deterioration, and pollution. Now a new project, starting this month, will add climate change to the list.

“Climate change is arguably the most significant threat that many of Africa’s protected areas may be facing,” said Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife Africa’s Important Bird Area Programme Manager.“By using birds to measure and predict the implications of changing climate and landscapes, we will be much better placed to counteract these threats.”

The ground-breaking project, Conservation in the face of climate change, will use models to assess the possible impacts of climate change on bird distributions. With this information, conservationists will then examine the resulting effect this may have on Africa’s network of Important Bird Areas (IBA) – BirdLife’s international framework for conserving sites of importance to birds. The BirdLife Africa Partnership, working with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Durham University (UK) obtained funding for the two-year project from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. One of the key outputs from the project will be the delivery of the Pan-African Adaptive Management Framework, a policy document that will list options for adapting the IBA network to minimise the impact of climate change. This framework will then be piloted in one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions: the Albertine Rift. This mountainous area –containing a host of forest types- sits in isolation between eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, south-west Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and western Tanzania. The Rift is incredibly important in terms of unique biodiversity, housing a number of bird species that occur nowhere else on Earth. As such it is listed as an Endemic Bird Area; home to sixteen species globally threatened with extinction. For species inhabiting isolated regions like the Albertine Rift, the implications of climate change on threatened species are predicted to be particularly damaging, conservationists say.

“The threat of climate change has particular significance to sites that are in isolated habitats; where species have limited choice to shift as changing climate alters habitat quality and extent.” said Arinaitwe. “By focusing on the Albertine Rift, we hope to develop a workable framework that can be applied to other African sites and species, not only birds.”

4th July 2014