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The BBC's Jon Leyne
"Woodlands will replace the frozen Arctic tundra"
 real 28k

Monday, 3 April, 2000, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
Climate change 'threatens Arctic birds'
red-breasted goose
Red-breasted goose: Habitat is at risk, WWF says
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A study of the impact of climate change on Arctic breeding water birds suggests that some species could be more than halved.

The authors used climate models to predict problems that include both habitat loss and impaired breeding ability.

As the climate warms, the treeline is expected to move further north, with forests replacing the tundra where millions of water birds breed.

The study says this could mean a loss of habitat by 2100 for between four and five million geese and 7.5 million Calidrid waders, birds of the sandpiper family.

The study, funded by the Worldwide Fund for Nature-UK, says one of the worst-affected species will be the red-breasted goose, which is already critically endangered.

Serious risk

Others at risk are the tundra bean goose, the emperor goose and the spoon-billed sandpiper, which is thought to have been reduced to fewer than 3,000 individuals.

Dr Ute Collier, of WWF, told BBC News Online: "I think the threat to the Arctic is very serious. Inuit communities are already worried about what will happen to their fisheries.
lesser white fronted goose
Arctic birds moult there, adding to stress
"Not all the changes will be negative. In some parts of the southern Arctic, they may be beneficial, allowing caribou grazing and some agriculture.

"But the rate of change will be so rapid that some species will find it impossible to adapt."

If the climate underwent what the study calls "a mild warming", a global increase of 1.7 degrees Celsius by the 2070s, many species could lose more than half their habitat.

But if the warming reached 5 deg C by then, 99% of the red-breasted goose's habitat would disappear.

Cooling a problem

A species which the authors believe could suffer from breeding difficulties is the Greenland white-fronted goose.

Many winter in the British Isles, but breed in west Greenland, which is expected to become cooler over the next century.

There are only 33,000 of the birds left, and the study says they could be seriously affected by the cooling.

It also foresees problems for the many birds which moult in the Arctic, something the authors say makes them very sensitive to climatic changes.

WWF is calling for more vigorous action to reduce emissions of the gases thought to be at least partly responsible for causing climate change.
emperor goose
The emperor goose is already rare
It says there is a need for more research on the probable impact of a warming world on Arctic birds, and also wants changes in habitat management.

It says grazing animals like reindeer might keep the encroaching forests at bay and help to preserve the tundra.

The study, claimed to be the first circumpolar assessment of what changing climate could mean for Arctic birdlife, was carried out by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Sceptical

But there will be some researchers who will question much of the science that underpins the study.

These academics believe the theory that human activities are inducing rapid climate change is weak.

They highlight the inconsistencies between the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface, which show rapid warming over the last two decades, and the data produced by satellite and balloon studies.

These show little or no warming higher in the atmosphere over the same period.

These scientists say our understanding of climate processes is still very limited, and that any computer models of future change must be treated with extreme caution as a result.

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See also:

06 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Humanity blamed for ice loss
16 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Arctic sea ice gets thinner
12 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Arctic wildlife feels the heat
07 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Earth enters the big thaw
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