03/05/2015
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Climate change and bird competition

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Blue Tit may well suffer from competition with its congeners as the effects of climate change take hold. Photo: Francis Franklin (commons.wikimedia.org).
Blue Tit may well suffer from competition with its congeners as the effects of climate change take hold. Photo: Francis Franklin (commons.wikimedia.org).
New research on Blue and Great Tits has revealed that long-term climate change could badly affect the survival rates of different bird species living in the same areas.

A team from Swansea University’s College of Science examined competition between Blue and Great Tits at four sites in Europe. The study focussed on two sites in Belgium, one in The Netherlands and one in the UK. All were home to breeding pairs of both species and had hosted annual counts of the two species for more than 15 years.

Dr Fowler said: “Blue Tits and Great Tits compete for both food and roosting sites, but they generally coexist with each other. As we know that climate fluctuations can affect the distribution, behaviour and life cycle of plants and animals, we set out to find whether climate change could change the competitive relationships between these two bird species.”

The aim of the research team was to examine whether the strength of competition between Great and Blue Tits had changed over time, and if this could be linked to climate fluctuations to enable them to better forecast the consequences of the change in the strength of competition for species co-existence.

The study found that long-term climate change can, but does not always affect competition between the two species. Data from one of the Belgian sites indicated that competitive interactions between the species had shifted to a point of overlap, which had the potential to disrupt their long-term ability to co-exist.

Dr Fowler said: “Our study has shown for the first time that climate change can affect competition between co-existing vertebrate species in the field. We can conclude that climate change may have important effects on ecological communities resulting from changing competition between interacting species. This research highlights the need for future studies that considers how both short and long term environmental variation impacts on the species competition.”
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