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Network of parks can save Africa’s birds in warmer world

As Africa’s birds are forced to move habitats due to climate change, a new study finds that the continent’s current park system will continue to protect up to 90 percent of bird species.

“We looked at bird species across the whole network of protected areas in Africa and the results show that wildlife conservation areas will be essential for the future survival of many species of birds,” said Dr. Stephen Willis from Durham University. “Important Bird Areas (IBAs) will provide new habitats for birds that are forced to move as temperatures and rainfall change and food sources become scarce in the areas where they currently occur. Protected areas are a vital conservation tool to help birds adapt to climate change in the 21st century.”

Violet Turaco native to west tropical Africa. Photo by: Jeff Whitlock.

Willis and other researchers from Durham University, Birdlife International, and the RSPB (the UK’s Birdlife) employed simulation models to see how moderate climate change will affect 815 bird species in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 75 years. The researchers compared the birds’ predicted movements due to climate change with the network of 863 IBAs across 42 countries.

The study, published in Ecology Letters found that the region’s bird diversity is likely to change significantly. In some ecosystems, half of the makeup of bird species would shift as current species move to find more suitable climates and other species take their place. The good news is that current protected areas should serve most species.

Blue-winged goose is endemic to Ethiopia and listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN. Photo by: Nik Borrow.

“The results show that 90 per cent of priority species in Africa will find suitable climate somewhere in the network of protected areas in future. However, one in ten birds will have to find new places to live and breed so new sites will have to be added to the IBA network,” said Willis. “The central regions of Africa should maintain many of their current species as long as the protected areas remain intact. By contrast, areas of the Afrotropical Highlands, which occur in countries such as Cameroon, South Africa and Ethiopia, will see enormous change with more than 40 per cent of species leaving.”

Unfortunately, almost half of all IBAs currently lack any form of legal protection. The researchers believe added protection to these IBAs—as well as additional protected areas—will be essential to saving Africa’s birds.

“Looking after IBAs is vital for the future of our wildlife. Protecting the natural resources and services provided by these ecosystems is vital for people too. Healthy ecosystems are the first line of defence against the impacts of climate change for many of the world’s poorest people,” said Ruth Davis, head of climate change at RSPB.

On top of climate change, Africa’s birds are also threatened by spreading agriculture, logging, alien species, and hunting.

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