Common montane birds are declining in northern Europe

Aleksi Lehikoinen, Martin Green, Magne Husby, John Atle Kålås, Åke Lindström

Published online: 
2 December 2013

Large-scale multi-species data on population changes of alpine or arctic species are largely lacking. At the same time, climate change has been argued to cause poleward and uphill range shifts and the concomitant predicted loss of habitat may have drastic effects on alpine and arctic species. Here we present a multi-national bird indicator for the Fennoscandian mountain range in northern Europe (Finland, Sweden and Norway), based on 14 common species of montane tundra and subalpine birch forest. The data were collected at 262 alpine survey plots, mainly as a part of geographically representative national breeding bird monitoring schemes. The area sampled covers around 1/4 million km2, spanning 10 degrees of latitude and 1600 km in a northeast–southwest direction. During 2002–2012, nine of the 14 bird species declined significantly in numbers, in parallel to higher summer temperatures and precipitation during this period compared to the preceding 40 yr. The population trends were largely parallel in the three countries and similar among montane tundra and subalpine birch forest species. Long-distance migrants declined less on average than residents and short-distance migrants. Some potential causes of the current decline of alpine birds are discussed, but since montane bird population sizes may show strong natural annual variation due to several factors, longer time series are needed to verify the observed population trends. The present Fennoscandian monitoring systems, which from 2010 onwards include more than 400 montane survey plots, have the capacity to deliver a robust bird indicator in the climate-sensitive mountainous regions of northernmost Europe for conservation purposes.

This paper has been selected as one of two Editor´s choice articles in the Janurary issue of JAB. Read more here.