Birds and Climate
Beale, C.M., Lennon, J.J. and Gimona, A. 2008. Opening the climate envelope reveals no macroscale associations with climate in European birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105: 14,908-14,912.
In an attempt to shed more light on the subject, Beale et al. evaluated the degree of matchup of species distributions to environment by generating synthetic distributions that retained the spatial structure of observed distributions but were randomly placed with respect to climate. More specifically, "using data on the European distribution of 100 bird species, [they] generated 99 synthetic distribution patterns for each species," and "for each of the 100 species, [they] fitted climate envelope models to both the true distribution and the 99 simulated distributions by using standard climate variables," after which they determined the goodness-of-fit of the many distribution patterns, because, as they describe it, "there has been no attempt to quantify how often high goodness-of-fit scores, and hence ostensibly good matches between distribution and climate, can occur by chance alone."
In a rather surprising result, the three UK researchers determined that "species-climate associations found by climate envelope methods are no better than chance for 68 of 100 European bird species."
Beale et al. say that "because birds are perceived to be equally strongly associated with climate as other species groups and trophic levels (Huntley et al., 2004)," their results "cast doubt on the predictions of climate envelope models for all taxa." Hence, they conclude that "many, if not most, published climate envelopes may be no better than expected from chance associations alone, questioning the implications of many published studies." The bottom line with respect to our stewardship of the earth is thus well described by their conclusion that "scientific studies and climate change adaptation policies based on the indiscriminate use of climate envelope methods irrespective of species sensitivity to climate may be misleading and in need of revision."
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