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A Warbler Recovers from Near Extinction, but Will its Habitat Survive?

Young, dense jack pine forests used for nesting by Kirtland's Warblers. Photo by Phil Huber, USDA Forest Service

More than three decades of work on restoration of its nesting habitat has resulted in the recovery of Kirtland?s warbler, a bird that flew close to extinction. Can these gains in nesting habitat be maintained under future climate conditions? Model results suggest most jack pine forests within the core breeding range will remain resilient to changing climate, but jack pine distribution will contract elsewhere in the Lake States.

Managing conservation-reliant wildlife species is difficult because of uncertainties in the face of climate change. Begun in the 1980s, habitat restoration in northern Lower Michigan using young, dense jack pine plantations has resulted in the recovery of a federally-listed endangered species, the Kirtland?s warbler, but it is uncertain if these gains can be maintained under future climate conditions. By applying established population-habitat relationships based on decades of monitoring and research-management collaborations, a Northern Research Station scientist and her collaborators projected changes in jack pine distribution and growth rate under future climate scenarios. Results indicate that the projected distribution of jack pine will contract considerably throughout the Lake States region, but most of the core breeding range of the Kirtland?s warbler may be resilient to changing conditions. Continuing the decades-long jack pine plantation program within northern Lower Michigan seems reasonable, but some peripheral and newly established Kirtland?s warbler populations may be affected outside the core breeding range. These findings contribute to Kirtland?s warbler conservation by informing long-term habitat planning with the goal of assuring a reliable supply of nesting habitat. More than three decades of research by Northern Research Station scientists have contributed to the warbler?s recovery and the proposal to delist the species in 2018.



Research Partners

External Partners

  • Donald Brown, West Virginia University
  • Christine Ribic, US Geological Survey Wildlife Cooperative Unit
  • Tim Greco, Michigan Department of Natural Resources