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Arctic warming signals dire straits for birds
Climate change could cut rare Arctic bird populations in half, according to a study released Monday by the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
Using climate models, scientists from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre assessed the effects of temperature and shrinking habitat on water birds in the Arctic region.
During the past century, global mean temperature increased by .9 degrees Fahrenheit. Nowhere on the planet has the warming been more striking than in the Arctic, where average temperatures have risen as much as 2.7 F per decade since the 1960s, the researchers note.
In the next 70 to 100 years, scientists predict that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the environment could double. Arctic habitats are expected to be among the first biomes to show the direct impact of climate change.
The report warns that higher temperatures will cause wooded forests to advance northward, replacing the Arctic tundra, an essential breeding area for millions of birds.
Arctic water birds most threatened by the global warming include the critically endangered red-breasted goose, tundra bean goose, spoon-billed sandpiper and emperor goose.
With a global temperature increase of only 1.7 degrees by 2070, all of these birds would lose more than 50 percent of their habitat, the report notes.
More than two-thirds of all geese and nearly 95 percent of all calidrid waders breed in the Arctic. The study forecasts that a 40 percent to 57 percent loss of tundra in the next 100 years may mean a loss of habitat for 5 million geese and 7.5 million calidrid waders.
While some scientists argue that the birds might adjust to their changing surroundings, others argue that many species such as waders, cannot physically adapt to brushy or tree-like habitats.
"This study once more underlines the urgent need to reduce the emissions of global warming gases to slow the rate of climate change," the researchers write. "In order to facilitate adaptation to a changed climate, we need to seriously consider changes in habitat management."
One possible strategy is the introduction of more grazing animals such as reindeer to the area to keep encroaching forests at bay and preserve the tundra.
The authors will present their findings at the Arctic Science Summit Week in Cambridge, England, which ends April 7.
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