Research project: Impact of climate change in Thailand’s montane rainforests:

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Kaeng Krachan N.P., Thailand

Thailand is a world hotspot for avian biodiversity, with more than 1000 species recorded. many of these species are specialised for a life in the lowland and montane rainforests. Like many places in the tropics, a long history of logging and conversion to agriculture has substantially reduced forest cover in South-east Asia, and Thailand is no exception. Large scale oil palm and rubber plantations continue to decimate Thai lowland forests. Added to this is the threat of anthropogenic climate change, which we know now is driving upslope shifts of species adapted to life in the cool mountain tops, and the expansion of heat-tolerant lowland species.

Just how to manage these forests to maximise the chances that species will survive the minimum 2 degree increase that we can expect (IF we can manage to organise ourselves to limit our carbon emissions!), is a thorny question… Which species are most sensitive?, Have they already begin to move? will they have enough habitat in the future? should we translocate some species at risk of extinction? Where should we preserve forests?

Luckily, a passionate birder and conservation researcher has taken up this challenge, Nantida Sutummawong at the Centre For Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, James Cook University, Australia, generously funded by the Thai Government, is undertaking to survey birds in Thai rainforest across a wide range of temperatures.

Aided by local experts and skilled technicians from Thailand’s forestry and National Parks Service, Nantida aims to map the abundance and diversity of rainforest birds in order to measure their sensitivity to climate change and predict the likely effects of future increases in temperature. There are many similarities between her approach and my own PhD research, so I hope I may be of some assistance as a member of her advisory committee. I will shortly be joining her in Thailand to see how her field work is going.

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