Responses of global waterbird populations to climate change vary with latitude
While climate change continues to present a major threat to global biodiversity and ecosystems, most research on climate change impacts do not have the resolution to detect changes in species abundance and are often limited to temperate ecosystems. This limits our understanding of global responses in species abundance—a determinant of ecosystem function and services—to climate change including in the highly-biodiverse tropics. We address this knowledge gap by quantifying abundance responses to climate change in waterbirds, an indicator taxon of wetland biodiversity, at 6,822 sites between −55° and 64°. Using 1,303,651 count records since 1990 of 390 species, we show that with temperature increase, the abundance of species and populations decreased at lower latitudes, particularly in the tropics, but increased at higher latitudes. These contrasting responses to temperature increase according to latitude indicate potential global-scale poleward shifts of species abundance under climate change, providing empirical support for predictions by earlier studies. The negative responses to temperature increase in tropical species and populations are of conservation concern, as they are often also threatened by other anthropogenic factors. Our results suggest that existing biases in studies towards temperate regions could underestimate the impact of climate change on waterbirds and other species.