Poleward shifts in winter ranges of North American birds

Ecology. 2007 Jul;88(7):1803-12. doi: 10.1890/06-1072.1.


Climate change is thought to promote the poleward movement of geographic ranges; however, the spatial dynamics, mechanisms, and regional anthropogenic drivers associated with these trends have not been fully explored. We estimated changes in latitude of northern range boundaries, center of occurrence, and center of abundance for 254 species of winter avifauna in North America from 1975 to 2004. After accounting for the effect of range size and the location of the northern boundary, positive latitudinal trends were evident for the northern boundary (1.48 km/yr), center of occurrence (0.45 km/yr), and center of abundance (1.03 km/yr). The northern boundary, when examined across individual species, had the most variable trends (SD = 7.46 km/yr) relative to the center of occurrence (SD = 2.36 km/yr) and center of abundance (SD = 5.57 km/yr). Trends did not differ based on migratory status, but there was evidence that trends differed for species with ranges centered in the southern vs. northern portion of the study area. Species occurred more sporadically over time at northern range boundaries, and northern boundaries were associated with a concentration of colonization and extirpation events, with a greater prevalence of colonization events likely promoting poleward trends. Regional anthropogenic drivers explained approximately 8% of the trend for the northern boundary, 14% for the center of occurrence, and 18% for the center of abundance; however, these effects were localized in the northern portion of species' ranges and were associated with distributional changes within ranges, primarily abundance, producing patterns that mimicked poleward movements. We conclude that poleward distributional shifts represent the interaction between climate change and regional factors whose outcome is determined by the scale of the analysis and the biotic and abiotic features in the region, and how anthropogenic activities have impacted these features.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Geography*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • North America
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seasons*