Beyond climate envelopes: bio-climate modelling accords with observed 25-year changes in seabird populations of the British Isles

Deborah Jill Fraser Russell, Sarah Wanless, Yvonne Collingham, Barbara Anderson, Colin Beale, James Reid, Brian Huntley, Keith Hamer

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24 Citations (Scopus)
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Aim: Climate envelope models (CEMs) are used to assess species’ vulnerability
to predicted changes in climate, based on their distributions. Extinction risk,
however, also depends on demographic parameters. Accordingly, we use CEMs
for 18 seabird species to test three hypotheses: (i) population sizes are larger in
areas where CEMs fitted using distribution data predict more suitable climate;
(ii) the presence of this relationship (Hypothesis i) is related to a species’ foraging ecology; and (iii) species whose distributions and population sizes conformed most closely to indices of climatic suitability in the mid-1980s
experienced the largest population changes following climatic change between
1986 and 2010.
Location: Europe.
Methods: Climate envelope models fitted at a 50-km resolution using European
climatic and distribution data were applied using local climatic data to
calculate local climatic suitability indices (CSIs) for 18 species within the British
Isles. We then investigated the relationship between CSI and population size at
a 10-km resolution and related both the presence of this relationship and goodness-of-fit metrics from the European models to changes in population size (1986–2010).
Results: Local population sizes were significantly positively related to local CSI
in 50% of species, providing support for Hypothesis (i), and these 50% of species
were independently considered to be most vulnerable to changes in food
availability at sea in support of Hypothesis (ii). Those species whose distributions
and populations most closely conformed to indices of climatic suitability
showed the least favourable subsequent changes in population size, over a period in which mean climatic suitability decreased for all species, in support of
Hypothesis (iii).
Main conclusions: Climate influences the population sizes of multiple seabird
species in the British Isles. We highlight the potential for outputs of CEMs fitted
with coarse resolution occupancy data to provide information on both local
abundance and sensitivity to future climate changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-222
Number of pages12
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number2
Early online date12 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2015


  • Ecological niche modelling
  • Global warming
  • Long-term studies
  • Population monitoring
  • Space-for-time substitutions
  • Species distribution model


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