Combining bird tracking data with high-resolution thermal mapping to identify microclimate refugia

Rita F. Ramos, Aldina M. A. Franco, James J. Gilroy, João P. Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Elevated temperatures can have a range of fitness impacts, including high metabolic cost of thermoregulation, hence access to microclimate refugia may buffer individuals against exposure to high temperatures. However, studies examining the use of microclimate refugia, remain scarce. We combined high resolution microclimate modelling with GPS tracking data as a novel approach to identify the use and availability of cooler microclimate refugia (sites > 0.5 °C cooler than the surrounding landscape) at the scales experienced by individual animals. 77 little bustards (Tetrax tetrax) were tracked between 2009 and 2019. The 92,685 GPS locations obtained and their surrounding 500 m areas were characterised with hourly temperature and habitat information at 30 m × 30 m and used to determine microclimate refugia availability and use. We found that the semi-natural grassland landscapes used by little bustards have limited availability of cooler microclimate areas—fewer than 30% of the locations. The use of cooler microclimate sites by little bustards increased at higher ambient temperatures, suggesting that individuals actively utilise microclimate refugia in extreme heat conditions. Microclimate refugia availability and use were greater in areas with heterogeneous vegetation cover, and in coastal areas. This study identified the landscape characteristics that provide microclimate opportunities and shelter from extreme heat conditions. Little bustards made greater use of microclimate refugia with increasing temperatures, particularly during the breeding season, when individuals are highly site faithful. This information can help identify areas where populations might be particularly exposed to climate extremes due to a lack of microclimate refugia, and which habitat management measures may buffer populations from expected increased exposure to temperature extremes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4726
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2023

Cite this