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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 107(4)

Climatic variation and breeding in the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen): a case study using existing data

Heather Gibbs

School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia. Present address: PO Box 2110, Lygon St North, East Brunswick, Vic. 3057, Australia. Email: hgi@deakin.edu.au
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To anticipate the effects of climate change on Australia’s avifauna, it is first necessary to understand the current effects of climate (including climate variability) on life histories, and to examine the scope and nature of existing data that may provide the necessary historical context to anticipate the effects of climate change. This study examines naturally occurring geographical gradients (altitude, latitude) and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) as integrated measures of climate. These are then compared with the timing and ‘amount’ of breeding recorded for the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) using data from Birds Australia’s Nest Record Scheme and Atlas of Australian Birds, the NSW Bird Atlassers Inc.’s NSW Bird Atlas, and the Canberra Ornitholgists Group’s Garden Bird Survey. For this common, easily identified species, these data suggest links between Australian Magpie breeding and all three environmental variables. Breeding became later as altitude increased, the proportion of breeding records increased from north to south, and years of high SOI corresponded to more (and earlier) breeding in this species. That annual climatic fluctuations have a direct, immediate and substantial effect on breeding in the Australian Magpie, particularly on the amount of breeding that occurs, implies that longer term changes in climate will have substantial impacts on populations. Results were not solely temperature-driven, which makes predicting climate change impacts difficult. For rainfall, predictions are far less precise and regional variation is higher. The results also highlight the potential and limitations of current survey techniques for documenting the impacts of climate change on birds; in particular, the Nest Record Scheme does not measure the amount of breeding that occurs, but a useful index of this can be derived from bird atlassing data.

Keywords: altitude, Australia, birds, climate, ENSO, latitude, methodology, phenology, rainfall, SOI, survey, temperature.

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