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Recent drought and tree mortality effects on the avian community in southern Sierra Nevada: a glimpse of the future?
- Roberts, L. Jay, Burnett, Ryan, Tietz, James, Veloz, Sam
- Ecological applications 2019 v.29 no.2 pp. e01848
- Internet, Landsat, altitude, biodiversity, birds, climatic factors, community structure, drought, environmental impact, forests, global warming, habitats, models, mountains, temperature, tree mortality, wildlife, wildlife management, California
- Birds respond rapidly to changes in both habitat and climate conditions and thus are good indicators of the ecological effects of a changing climate, which may include warmer temperatures, changing habitat conditions, and increased frequency and magnitude of extreme events like drought. We investigated how a widespread tree mortality event concurrent with a severe drought influenced the avian community of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. We assessed and compared the separate effects of climate stresses and altered habitat conditions on the avian community and used this information to evaluate the changes that are likely to occur in the near future. We built tree mortality maps from freely available Landsat imagery with Google Earth Engine. We analyzed avian point counts from 2010 to 2016 in the southern Sierra Nevada, to model temperature, water deficit, and tree mortality effects on the abundances of 45 bird species, and then used these models to project abundances into the future based on three climate projections. A large portion of the avian community, 47%, had a positive relationship with temperature increase, compared to 20% that responded negatively. More species (36%) declined with drier conditions than increased (29%). More species declined in response to high tree mortality (36%) than increased (9%). A preponderance of species adapted to colder temperatures (higher elevation) had negative responses to high tree mortality and water deficit, but positive responses to increasing temperature. We projected the highest total bird abundances in the future under the warmest climate scenario that we considered, but habitat modification (e.g., tree mortality) and water deficit could offset the positive influence of temperature for many species. As other studies have shown, climate warming may lead to substantial but idiosyncratic effects on wildlife species that could result in community composition shifts. We conclude that future climate conditions may not have a universally negative effect on biodiversity in the Sierra Nevada, but probable vegetation changes and increased likelihood of extreme events such as drought should be incorporated into climate‐smart forest and wildlife management decisions.