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Australian birds at risk from climate change

By Linden Ashcroft

8 July 2014

A new book from CSIRO Publishing has identified the 250 Australian birds that are most at risk from climate change.

Increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns will affect the habitats, food supply and breeding cycle of many species across the country.

Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Australian Birds assesses the climate risk by examining the exposure and sensitivity of various bird species. Exposure relates to how the different elements of climate change – sea level rise, bush fires and extreme heat – could be experienced by a particular bird species.  

The second assessment metric, sensitivity, explores the characteristics of a bird that might make them more or less resilient to climate changes. A bird with a very particular diet for example, or a species with a low reproductive rate would be more sensitive than a species that can easily adapt to different food types or reproduce quickly.

For example, coastal birds like the Australian pied oystercatcher nest in the sand, and will be exposed to rising sea levels. This is likely to cause a decrease in successful nests, and as the Australian pied oystercatcher only produces one brood of eggs per year, the species is highly vulnerable.

Australian Pied Oystercatcher

The Australian pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) is a ClimateWatch indicator species, and one of the 250 Australian birds most at risk from climate change.

Modelling these components of bird sensitivity suggests that species inhabiting the edges of our continent, such as the Top End of the Northern Territory, are most at risk from climate change. This information can help conservation groups and environmental managers decide which species and locations need the most attention.

Read more at CSIRO’s ECOS magazine.