Give Me Shelter: US national parks are vital for birds in face of climate change

Give Me Shelter: US national parks are vital for birds in face of climate change

U.S. national parks provide a haven for birds from many invasive and ecological threats. However, little is known about how climate change could impact birds living in the parks.

Joanna Wu from the National Audubon Society and her colleagues investigated the potential effects of climate change on the distribution of 513 bird species across 274 national parks. They related species distribution models derived from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, which is conducted in the summer, and the wintertime Audubon Christmas Bird Count to climate data from the early 2000s and projected the models forward from 2041 to 2070.

Example of projected bird assemblage changes by mid-century at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

The researchers found that if their projections were realized, by 2070 the average park would have 29 percent more species in winter and 6 percent more species in summer. The authors suggest that their findings reinforce the importance of the U.S. national parks to the conservation of birds in the face of climate change and also demonstrate the value of monitoring species distribution to better inform conservation and management strategies.

“Over the next few decades, the majority of birds currently found across the national park system are expected to experience changes in climate conditions, which on average may lead to turnover of nearly a quarter of the bird community per park,” says Gregor Schuurman, co-author on the study. “Despite these changes, parks will become increasingly important as refuges for birds in the future.”

Citation: Wu JX, Wilsey CB, Taylor L, Schuurman GW (2018) Projected avifaunal responses to climate change across the U.S. National Park SystemPLoS ONE 13(3): e0190557.

Image Credit: Wu et al (2018)


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @tessagregs.

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