Projecting demographic responses to climate change: adult and juvenile survival respond differently to direct and indirect effects of weather in a passerine population

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Few studies have quantitatively projected changes in demography in response to climate change, yet doing so can provide important insights into the processes that may lead to population declines and changes in species distributions. Using a long-term mark-recapture data set, we examined the influence of multiple direct and indirect effects of weather on adult and juvenile survival for a population of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) in California. We found evidence for a positive, direct effect of winter temperature on adult survival, and a positive, indirect effect of prior rainy season precipitation on juvenile survival, which was consistent with an effect of precipitation on food availability during the breeding season. We used these relationships, and climate projections of significantly warmer and slightly drier winter weather by the year 2100, to project a significant increase in mean adult survival (12–17%) and a slight decrease in mean juvenile survival (4–6%) under the B1 and A2 climate change scenarios. Together with results from previous studies on seasonal fecundity and postfledging survival in this population, we integrated these results in a population model and projected increases in the population growth rate under both climate change scenarios. Our results underscore the importance of considering multiple, direct, and indirect effects of weather throughout the annual cycle, as well as differences in the responses of each life stage to climate change. Projecting demographic responses to climate change can identify not only how populations will be affected by climate change but also indicate the demographic process(es) and specific mechanisms that may be responsible. This information can, in turn, inform climate change adaptation plans, help prioritize future research, and identify where limited conservation resources will be most effectively and efficiently spent.

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