Research Priorities for Migratory Birds Under Climate Change—A Qualitative Value of Information Assessment

Circular 1472
By: , and 



The mission of the U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Adaptation Science Center is to provide actionable, management-relevant research on climate change effects on ecosystems and wildlife to U.S. Department of the Interior bureaus. Providing this kind of useful scientific information requires understanding how natural-resource managers make decisions and identifying research priorities that support those decision-making processes. Migratory bird management and conservation of migratory bird habitat are central components of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s mission. In particular, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an intensive, complex decision-making process for identifying high-priority parcels of land that will contribute to migratory bird conservation through permanent acquisition or easement. Climate change introduces several uncertainties into this decision-making process, and additional climate change research should help to support more informed decision making regarding habitat acquisition.

Not all climate change related uncertainties, however, will have a meaningful effect on acquisition decisions; therefore, understanding which uncertainties have the most potential to alter decision making is crucial. This document summarizes a multiyear effort to clarify the major sources of climate change uncertainty that affect migratory bird management and to articulate related research priorities. We worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to assess the primary ways in which climate change is likely to affect migratory birds and their habitats; to clarify uncertainties surrounding these effects; and to assess how uncertainties may affect habitat acquisition decisions. Using a modified structured decision-making approach, we assessed a set of hypotheses about how climate change will affect migratory birds and their habitats. Then, we used a qualitative value of information assessment to rank the most important topics for future research. The ranking process was built on an assessment of three primary characteristics: the magnitude of uncertainty, the topic’s relevance to habitat acquisition decision making, and the feasibility of reducing the uncertainty. Based on the results of this process, high-priority topics for future research include the following:

  • The effects of rising temperatures on spatial distributions of migratory birds during the breeding and nonbreeding seasons;
  • Climate-driven changes to avian community composition through homogenization and loss of specialists;
  • The effects of decreased precipitation on abundance in the breeding season; and
  • The effects of rising temperatures on abundance in the nonbreeding season.

In addition to describing high-priority research needs, this document provides a summary of the methodology used to identify, assess, and rank uncertainties. This method was developed for a climate change related topic where a full quantitative value of information approach may not be feasible. The results and methodology described here may be useful for U.S. Geological Survey and other science-funding agencies interested in improving the applicability of their research to natural-resource management decision making.

Suggested Citation

Rubenstein, M.A., Rushing, C.S., Lyons, J.E., and Runge, M.C., 2020, Research priorities for migratory birds under climate change—A qualitative value of information assessment: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1472, 18 p.,

ISSN: 2330-5703 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Research priorities for migratory birds under climate change—A qualitative value of information assessment
Series title Circular
Series number 1472
DOI 10.3133/cir1472
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Climate Adaptation Science Center
Description vi, 18 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details