Author: Kathy Martin
Published in: Biological Conservation (Feb 10, 2017)
The conservation value of high elevation habitats to North American migrant birds
Effective monitoring of global trends in biodiversity is an important component of international commitments to protect wildlife. Remote cameras (aka camera “traps”) are a rapidly growing technology with great potential to transform the way wildlife monitoring is done.
About 24% of the continental landbase of North America is classified as mountainous, including over 50% of the BC and Yukon landbase. Temperate mountains are considered to support relatively low density and specialized biodiversity. While there are only six alpine obligate birds, over 55 bird species breed across wide elevation gradients (up to 4000 m). Many of these elevation generalist species are declining in their low elevation habitats. Using field surveys conducted in British Columbia, we detected a remarkable diversity of birds (95 species in 30 families) using alpine, subalpine, and montane forest for post-breeding and migration stopovers.
From an extensive literature-based survey, we found that one-third of bird species breeding in continental North America use mountain habitats for at least one critical period of their annual life cycle (breeding, migration or winter), and that all major high elevation habitats are important for the full life-cycle conservation of our avifauna. Our findings highlight the importance of high elevation habitats to migrating birds from wide-ranging breeding distributions for at least three months of the year, a period equivalent to the length of the breeding season for most species. One quarter of the species are on lists of conservation concern. These results emphasize the need for effective conservation of fragile mountain habitats as the threats to all high elevation taxa are numerous and severe, including complex responses to changing climate and the interactions between multiple direct and indirect anthropogenic disturbances