U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment 115 (2011) 245–254; doi:10.1016/j.rse.2010.08.024


Heat waves are expected to become more frequent and severe as climate changes, with unknown consequences for biodiversity. We sought to identify ecologically-relevant broad-scale indicators of heat waves based on MODIS land surface temperature (LST) and interpolated air temperature data and assess their associations with avian community structure. Specifically, we asked which data source, time periods, and heat wave indices best predicted changes in avian abundance and species richness. Using mixed effects models, we analyzed associations between these indices and data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey in the central United States between 2000 and 2007 in four ecoregions and five migratory and nesting species groups. We then quantified avian responses to scenarios of severe, but commonly-occurring early, late, and summer-long heat waves. Indices based on MODIS LST data, rather than interpolated air temperatures, were more predictive of avian community structure. Avian communities were more related to 8-day LST exceedances (positive anomalies only); and were generally more sensitive to summer-long heat waves. Across the region, abundance, and to a lesser extent, species richness, declined following heat waves. Among the ecoregions, relationships were most consistently negative in the southern and montane ecoregions, but were positive in a more humid northern ecoregion. Among migratory groups, permanent resident species were the most sensitive, declining in abundance following a summer-long heat wave by 19% and 13% in the montane and southern ecoregions, respectively. Ground-nesting species, which declined in the south by 12% following a late summer heat wave, were more sensitive than avifauna overall. These results demonstrate the value of MODIS LST data for measuring ecologically-relevant heat waves across large regions. Ecologically, these findings highlight the importance of extreme events for avian biodiversity and the considerable variation in response to environmental change associated with different functional groups and geographic regions. The magnitude of the relationships between avian abundance and heat waves reported here raises concerns about the impacts of more frequent and severe heat waves in a warming climate.