Assessing responses of boreal songbird distribution and abundance to climate change at multiple spatial and temporal scales
The boreal forest, often referred to as North America’s bird nursery, provides a resource-rich environment for breeding birds, supporting high species diversity and bird numbers. These birds are likely to shift their distributions northward and upslope in response to rapid climate change over the next century, resulting in population- and community-level changes. I am using a large avian dataset and climate data to model passerine bird distributions and densities, project potential climate-change responses, and identify climatic refugia within the North American boreal forest region. My research also investigates the sources and magnitudes of uncertainty associated with these change projections, and evaluates key model assumptions at different temporal scales. At a millennial time scale, I am using climate model simulations for the past 20,000 years to identify historical barriers to avian range expansion in North America, and assess the future importance of these barriers under climate change. At a decadal time scale, I am evaluating the impact on forest bird populations of projected increases in wildfires and human activities, as well as expected lags between climate change and forest vegetation change. Finally, at the seasonal time scale, I am using abundance data from the last twenty years to examine the importance of local inter-annual variations in climate, relative to climate patterns that may affect wintering grounds and migratory routes.
My research has always had an applied conservation focus, with an emphasis on synthesizing large datasets to develop tools and recommendations for land managers. I returned to academia after working for 11 years as a landscape ecologist, GIS specialist, and resource planner in California. While at Point Blue (formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory) in the San Francisco Bay area, I led a variety of spatial ecology and modeling projects, with a major emphasis on San Francisco Bay, wetland restoration, and climate change. I have scaled up and applied many of the lessons learned in California, but the unique characteristics of the boreal forest—shaped by climatic constraints and broad-scale natural disturbance events—often warrant different approaches. So during the short breeding season, I try to maximize my time in the field, primarily at the Calling Lake field station in Alberta, to improve my first-hand knowledge of boreal forest systems.