As global temperatures have increased, many species distributions have exhibited polewards shifts, a trend that is predicted to continue in future decades. However, the mechanisms underlying such shifts are not well understood. Here we quantify the impact of large-scale variation in temperature on reproductive output within a group of migratory birds to assess the potential for future range changes.
We use data from captures of 350,000 individual birds, collected under constant effort ringing protocols from 1994–2006, to estimate productivity (percentage of juveniles caught) for seven species of migrant warblers (family Sylviidae) breeding in Europe in relation to spring temperature and latitude by fitting generalized linear mixed models.
Productivity was highest at mid-latitudes for six of our seven study species and did not change significantly over the study period. Only one species (reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus) showed increased productivity at northern sites as expected. Six of the seven species also showed evidence for local adaptation, with productivity decreasing as temperatures diverged from the local mean. However, for three of these species the ‘optimum’ temperature was greater than the local mean temperature at the majority of sites.
These results indicate that latitudinal gradients in productivity are likely to influence large-scale abundance patterns, but that adaptation to local climate conditions has the potential to constrain the rate of northward range shifts in many species.