Global change and the distributional dynamics of migratory bird populations wintering in Central America

F.A. la Sorte, D. Fink, P.J. Blancher, A.D. Rodewald, V. Ruiz-Gutierrez , K.V. Rosenberg, W.M. Hochachka, P.H. Verburg, S. Kelling

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Understanding the susceptibility of highly mobile taxa such as migratory birds to global change requires information on geographic patterns of occurrence across the annual cycle. Neotropical migrants that breed in North America and winter in Central America occur in high concentrations on their non-breeding grounds where they spend the majority of the year and where habitat loss has been associated with population declines. Here, we use eBird data to model weekly patterns of abundance and occurrence for 21 forest passerine species that winter in Central America. We estimate species’ distributional dynamics across the annual cycle, which we use to determine how species are currently associated with public protected areas and projected changes in climate and land-use. The effects of global change on the non-breeding grounds is characterized by decreasing precipitation, especially during the summer, and the conversion of forest to cropland, grassland, or peri-urban. The effects of global change on the breeding grounds are characterized by increasing winter precipitation, higher temperatures, and the conversion of forest to peri-urban. During spring and autumn migration, species are projected to encounter higher temperatures, forests that have been converted to peri-urban, and increased precipitation during spring migration. Based on current distributional dynamics, susceptibility to global change is characterized by the loss of forested habitats on the non-breeding grounds, warming temperatures during migration and on the breeding grounds, and declining summer rainfall on the non-breeding grounds. Public protected areas with low and medium protection status are more prevalent on the non-breeding grounds, suggesting that management opportunities currently exist to mitigate near-term non-breeding habitat losses. These efforts would affect more individuals of more species during a longer period of the annual cycle, which may create additional opportunities for species to respond to changes in habitat or phenology that are likely to develop under climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5284-5296
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number12
Early online date24 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


We thank T. Auer and E. Miller for computational advice, the eBird team for their support, the many eBird participants for their contributions, and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions. This work was funded by The Leon Levy Foundation, The Wolf Creek Foundation, NASA (NNH12ZDA001N-ECOF), Microsoft Azure Research Award (CRM: 0518680), and the National Science Foundation (ABI sustaining: DBI-1356308; computing support from CNS-1059284 and CCF-1522054).

FundersFunder number
Wolf Creek Foundation
National Science Foundation1522054
National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationNNH12ZDA001N-ECOF
Leon Levy Foundation
Arkansas Biosciences InstituteDBI-1356308, CNS-1059284, CCF-1522054


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