A new approach to modeling the impacts of climate change on avian biodiversity


A new approach to modeling the impacts of climate change on avian biodiversity


Project Description


Prof Rachel Warren (UEA Environmental Sciences)

Dr Jeff Price (UEA)

Dr James Pearce-Higgins (BTO)

Scientific background

Climate change is affecting biodiversity. Species distributions are changing and spring is advancing. In the future, risks are projected to be much greater. At UEA, the Wallace Initiative (wallaceinitiative.org) has used computer models to examine potential impacts of climate change on ~125,000 plants and animals. However, like most other studies, this is based on changes in mean climate.

Biodiversity responds strongly to extreme climatic events (e.g., 2018’s hot, dry summer). Thus, projected impacts based on changes in mean climate may be underestimated. In this project, you will have the opportunity to develop ground-breaking new approaches to explore how species respond to more extreme climatic events.  You will greatly improve standard tools and develop entirely new ways to project impacts of climate change on biodiversity globally.

This project is in collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), allowing you to explore how variability and extreme seasonal events have affected British birds. Steps:

  1. Use existing computer models and existing projected year to year climate data to explore how species ranges respond to transient changes in climate as opposed to mean climate
  2. Explore how to adapt these existing computer models to incorporate variables indicative of drought
  3. Use BTO data to study how extreme climatic events have impacted British bird populations
  4. Further mine BTO data to determine  if overall diversity or habitat intactness makes bird populations more of less susceptible to climatic extremes, or the time it takes to recover
  5. Feed this information into computer models to improve projections of climate change impacts on biodiversity to better inform climate policy and conservation planning
  6. Test predictions and methods using high-level data from other regions (e.g., Europe, North America)


You will acquire enhanced computational, programming, statistical and spatial analysis (GIS) skills increasing employability.  You will join the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which informs climate change related decision-making. This is a collaborative project with BTO who will host you for 6 months.

Person specification

Computational and statistical skills including GIS essential.  Knowledge of R preferred.  Degree in biological, ecological, computational or climate sciences preferred.


  • Warren, R., Price, J., Graham, E., Forstenhaeusler N., Vanderwal J. 2018. The projected effect on insects, vertebrates and plants of limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C. Science 360, 791-795.
  • McDermott-Long, O., Warren R., Price J., Brereton T.M., Botham, M.S., Franco A.M.A. 2016. Sensitivity of UK butterflies to local climatic extremes: which life stages are most at risk? Journal of Animal Ecology 86, 108–116.
  • Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Eglington, S.M., Martay, B. & Chamberlain, D.E. 2015. Drivers of climate change impacts on bird communities. Journal of Animal Ecology 84: 943-954.
  • Warren, R., Price J., Vanderwal J., Cornelius S, and Sohl, H. 2018. The implications of the United Nations Paris Agreement on Climate Change for Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas. Climatic Change https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2158-6
  • Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Ockendon, N., Baker, D.J., Carr, J., White, E.C., Almond, R.E.A., Amano, T., Bertram, E., Bradbury, R.B., Bradley, C., Butchart, S.H.M., Doswald, N., Foden, W., Gill, D.J.C., Green, R.E., Sutherland, W.J. & Tanner, E.V.J. 2015. Geographical variation in species’ population responses to changes in temperature and precipitation. Proceedings Royal Society, Series B. 282: 20151561

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