College of Science and Engineering


Marine and Conservation Biology

Faculty Mentor

Kristin Hultgren, PhD

Faculty Editor

Kristin Hultgren, PhD

Student Editor

Erin Kiuttu


Alpine birds are high-elevation specialists with unique adaptations such as delayed and reduced breeding and the physiological ability to withstand hypoxic, arid, and windy conditions—unfortunately, their populations are expected to decline due to anthropogenic climate change. These birds are short-migrating species, usually only migrating vertically up to the highest peaks for the breeding season. With the changing landscape and climate, scientists have been trying to understand the risk alpine birds face and whether they will change their distribution or decline. Abiotic changes such as drastic retreating of glaciers, reduced snowpack, increased temperatures, and increased precipitation as rain are shrinking the available breeding and foraging habitat of alpine birds. Indirectly, these abiotic changes are triggering biotic changes; for example, forest and shrub vegetation are invading alpine tundra, and snowpack decline is reducing snowbed habitat available for foraging. Additionally, the environmental cues triggered at lower elevations are becoming increasingly mismatched with higher elevation conditions, causing birds to migrate earlier to regions that are still completely covered in snow. Studies focused on understanding alpine bird responses to climate change have found heterogeneity in the birds’ responses. Unfortunately, this complicates conservation efforts because it limits our ability to apply one species’ response to another. Going forward, conservation efforts should focus on understanding specific bird ecology and on restoring and protecting alpine habitats.