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Western Bird Species Are Struggling In Face Of Rapidly Changing Climate

Waterfowl rest in the placid waters of the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Waterfowl rest in the placid waters of the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.

New research finds that climate change is putting stress on wetlands in the West's Great Basin and that is putting pressure on bird populations navigating the Pacific Flyway.

Changing water conditions linked to climate change are impacting the wetland habitats that water birds rely on.

The basin includes most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Arizona, Oregon and the eastern edge of California.

Warmer temperatures and less rain are affecting wetland habitats.

“Eleven of those 14 birds that we looked at there were significant correlations between changes in climate and a decrease in population,” said Susan Haig, U.S. Geological Survey researcher emeritus.

RELATED: Change At The Salton Sea Is Affecting Bird Populations

Snowmelt is arriving too early and not sticking around long enough, according to Haig, and that has a negative impact on waterbirds that rely on wetlands for breeding.

Average temperatures in the Great Basin states climbed over the past 20 years and rainfall totals fell during the same period.

“We did find that there was a significant correlation with climate variables and what’s happening with the bird populations," Haig said. "But that’s not to say that urbanization and other uses of water have not severely affected birds in the great basin and elsewhere.”

Climate change could also help explain why migratory bird populations at the Salton Sea are going down, he said.

Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Climate change appears to be having an impact on the number of birds using the Pacific Flyway.

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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