Feb 10

African countries need to increase co-operation over conservation if birds and other wildlife are to be protected in an era of climate change, according to a new continental-scale study. 

An international research team has established a new conservation index of protected areas in Africa, to show how conservationists might deal with climate change and the shuffling distributions of wildlife that it will cause.

Photo of grey crowned-crane courtship close up

The grey crowned-crane is a non-migratory species. However, local movements occur in response to the availability of water, food and nest sties.

One third of Important Bird Areas to undergo upheaval 

Birds are a key indicator for conservationists because they respond quickly to climate change and are relatively easily monitored. 

The research team used climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to show how African bird species will fare in 803 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), if climate change continues as predicted. Climate change impacts on African birds over the next 100 years were simulated for each of the IBAs, to identify which areas could be expected to sustain which bird species. 

The research, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and published in the journal Conservation Biology, suggests that hundreds of bird species in Africa will become emigrants, leaving one part of the continent for another in search of food and suitable habitat. It is predicted that one third of the IBAs will undergo significant upheaval this century, in terms of the species that live there, due to climate change.

Photo of secretarybird, view from below

A fairly nomadic species, the secretarybird will often travel widely in search of food, or in response to rainfall, fires and other changes in environmental conditions.

Gap in current conservation network 

The study shows that there are substantial geographical gaps in the current conservation network and that international cooperation is essential to protect bird species. 

There are large areas of Africa lacking protected status and many of these areas are predicted to be critically important for bird conservation in the future. We need to be ready to protect remnant populations of birds while also preparing for new colonists.” Team leader, Dr Stephen Willis, Durham University. 

The new index is designed to assist governments across the world to protect wildlife and help species as climate change forces them to move to new areas. It should also offer policy-makers essential information to allow them to manage and adapt habitats in coming decades. 

The bird map of Africa is set to change dramatically and we need conservation policies that see the bigger picture,” said Dr Willis. 

To read more, see the Conservation International article. 

Explore ARKive’s African birds.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author