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Climate change may force European species northwards

Grasshopper warbler, © Sue Tranter (

Modelling suggests that, by the end of this century, the breeding ranges of European birds will shift north-eastwards by several hundred kilometres. On average, future ranges are expected to be 20% smaller than they are now, with limited overlap (c.40%) with present breeding distributions. Such projected shifts pose significant challenges for conservation.

Avian species richness in Europe simulated for the present (bottom) and for 2085 (top)

Map for 2085 based on HadCM3 climate model, and assumes perfect dispersal. Huntley et al. (2007).

Under climate change, the suitable climate for many species is expected to shift and change in extent. For European species, a recent modelling study (Huntley et al. 2007, 2008) has shown that there is likely to be a general northerly shift in the distribution of species. For each bird species in Europe the recent distribution was modelled in terms of three climatic variables. This model was used to project the areas in which the climate is likely to be suitable for the species under future climate scenarios. Overlaying such projected ranges of all European species shows that the area of highest species richness is projected to shift northwards from south-east of the Baltic Sea into Fennoscandia, under the optimistic scenario of perfect dispersal. A marked increase in diversity in Arctic regions contrasts with a decrease in southern and western parts of Europe. Such projected shifts pose significant challenges for conservation of species and Important Bird Areas.


Huntley, B., Green, R. E., Collingham, Y. and Willis, S. G. (2007). A climatic atlas of European breeding birds. Durham, Sandy and Barcelona: Durham University, RSPB and Lynx Edicions.
Huntley, B., Collingham, Y. C., Willis, S. G. and Green, R. E. (2008) Potential impacts of climatic change on European breeding birds. PLoS ONE 3(1): e1439. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001439


Graphic reproduced with kind permission of Brian Huntley and Lynx Edicions.

Compiled 2008

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2008) Climate change may force European species northwards. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: Checked: 26/11/2015

Key message: Many species will suffer from range shifts and losses, and some will become extinct
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