The future demographic niche of a declining grassland bird fails to shift poleward in response to climate change
Context Temperate grasslands and their dependent species are exposed to high variability in weather and climate due to the lack of natural buffers such as forests. Grassland birds are particularly vulnerable to this variability, yet have failed to shift poleward in response to recent climate change like other bird species in North America. However, there have been few studies examining the effect of weather on grassland bird demography and consequent influence of climate change on population persistence and distributional shifts. Objectives The goal of this study was to estimate the vulnerability of Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), an obligate grassland bird that has been declining throughout much of its range, to past and future climatic variability. Methods We conducted a demographic meta-analysis from published studies and quantified the relationship between nest success rates and variability in breeding season climate. We projected the climatedemography relationships spatially, throughout the breeding range, and temporally, from 1981 to 2050. These projections were used to evaluate population dynamics by implementing a spatially explicit population model. Results We uncovered a climate-demography linkage for Henslow’s Sparrow with summer precipitation, and to a lesser degree, temperature positively affecting nest success. We found that future climatic conditions—primarily changes in precipitation—will likely contribute to reduced population persistence and a southwestward range contraction. Conclusions Future distributional shifts in response to climate change may not always be poleward and assessing projected changes in precipitation is critical for grassland bird conservation and climate change adaptation.