James Pearce-Higgins


Science Director


I am a member of the senior management team of the British Trust for Ornithology responsible for providing strategic leadership of the science of the organisation.


Jul 1994 - BSc Honours Zoology (University of Nottingham).
Feb 2000 - PhD Environmental Biology ‘The ecology of Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria in the Peak District.’ (University of Manchester).

Research Interests/Responsibilities

Working with Andy Musgrove and Rob Robinson, I provide strategic oversight of BTO science, which encompasses both monitoring and research.  BTO organises volunteer-based and professional surveys to assess changes in the abundance, distribution and demography of bird populations, and of selected non-avian taxa.  We also lead on the analysis of these data, conducting research to understand causes of population change, the processes that underpin observed ecological patterns, and to inform what is required to manage species and habitats sustainably.

In addition, I specifically lead BTO's climate change research.  This involves documenting the impacts of climate change on UK biodiversity, undertaking projections of the likely future impace of climate change on species' distributions and abundance, and informing the development of climate change adaptation.  In recent years, I have led five multi-organisational climate change research consortia funded by Defra, Natural England and CCI, as well as many BTO projects.  In 2014 CUP published Birds and Climate Change. Impacts and Conservation Responses, which I co-authored with Rhys Green.  I have also written contributing papers for both MCCIP and LWEC climate change report cards.

From 2010-2014 I led the Population Ecology and Modelling team and was responsible for the BBS research programme, which not only informed potential improvements and additions to the BBS survey, but developed new modelling techniques to understand the drivers of population change, and to improve predictions of future abundance.  I now chair the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey Steering Group. Prior to this, for eleven years I worked in Scotland for RSPB, leading a wide-range of upland research projects.

Other information

On the board of Trustees and Conservation Advisory Committee of A Rocha UK.

Honorary Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia.

Member of Scientific Advisory Committee Expert Panel for SNH.

Founding committee member of BES Climate Change Ecology Special Interest Group.

Selected Publications 

Baker, D.J., Hartley, A.J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Jones, R.G. & Willis, S.G. (in press) Neglected issues in using weather and climate information in ecology and biogeography. Diversity and Distributions.

Buchanan, G.M., Bond, A.L., Crockford, N.J., Kamp, J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Hilton, G.M. (in press) The potential breeding range of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris identified from stable-isotope analysis. Bird Conservation International.

Martay, B., Brewer, M.J., Elston, D.A., Bell, J.R., Harrington, R., Brereton, T.M., Barlow, K.E., Botham, M.S. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. (in press) Impacts of climate change on national biodiversity population trends. Ecography.

Miller, M.W., Leech, D.I., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Robinson, R.A. (in press) Multi-state multi-stage modelling of nest-success suggest interaction between weather and land-use. Ecology.

Oliver, T.H., Gillings, S., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Brereton, T., Crick, H.Q.P., Duffield, S., Morecroft, M.D., Roy, D.B. (in press) Large extents of intensive land use limit community reorganisation during climate warming. Global Change Biology doi:10.1111/gcb.13587.

Sutherland, W.J., Barnard, P., Broad, S., Clout M., Connor, B., Cote, I.M., Dicks, L.V., Doran, H., Entwhisle, A.C., Fleishman, E., Fox, M., Gibbons, D.W., Jiang, Z., Keim, B., Lickorish, F.A., Markillie, P., Monk, K.A., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Peck, L.S., Pretty, J., Spalding, M.D., Tonneijck, F.H., Wintle, B.C & Ockendon, N. (in press) A 2017 horizon scan of emerging issues for global conservation and biological diversity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32:31-40.

Hewson, C.M., Thorup, K., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Atkinson, P.W. 2016. Population decline is linked to migration route in the Common Cuckoo.Nature Communications 7: 12296. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12296.

Martay, B., Monteith, D.T., Brewer, M.J., Brereton, T., Shortall, C.R. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2016. An indicator highlights seasonal variation in the response of Lepidoptera communities to warming. Ecological Indicators doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.01.057.

Morrison, C.A., Robinson, R.A. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2016. Winter wren populations show adaptation to local climate. Open Science 3:160250. 

Newson, S.E., Moran, N.J., Musgrove, A.J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Gillings, S., Atkinson, P.W., Miller, R., Grantham, M.J. and Baillie, S.R. 2016. Long-term changes in the migration phenology of UK breeding birds detected by large-scale citizen science recording schemes. Ibis 158(3): 481-495.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Wright, L.J, Grant, M.C., & Douglas, D.J.T. 2016. The role of habitat change in driving Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix population declines across Scotland. Bird Study 63: 66-72

Phillimore, A.B., Leech, D., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Hadfield, J.D. 2016. Passerines may be sufficiently plastic to track temperature-mediated shifts in optimum lay date. Global Change Biology DOI:10.111/gcb.13302.

Sansom, A., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. and Douglas, D.J.T. 2016. Negative impact of wind energy development on a breeding shorebird assessed with a BACI study design. Ibis 158(3): 541-555.

Sullivan, M.J.P., Newson, S.E. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2016. Changing densities of generalist species underlie apparent homogenization of UK bird communities. Ibis DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12370.

Sutherland, W.J., Broad, S., Caine, J., Clout, M., Dicks, L.V., Doran, H., Entwistle, A.C., Fleishman, E., Gibbons, D.W., Keim, B., LeAnstey, B., Lickorish, F.A., Markillie, P., Monk, K.A., Mortimer, D., Ockendon, N., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Peck, L.S., Pretty, J., Rockström, J., Spalding, M.D., Tonneijck, F.H., Wintle, B.C., Wright, K.E. 2016. A horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2016. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31: 44-53.

Thackeray, S.J., Henrys, P.A, Hemming, D., Bell, J.R., Botham, M.S., Burthe, S., Halaouet, P., Johns, D.G., Jones, I.D., Leech, D.I., Mackay, E.B., Massimino, D., Atkinson, S., Bacon, P.J., Brereton, T.M., Carvalho, L., Clutton-Brock, T.H., Duck, C., Edwards, M., Elliott, J.M., Hall, S.J.G., Harrington, R., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Hoye, T.T., Kruuk, L.E.B., Pemberton, J.M., Sparks, T.H., Thompson, P.M., White, I., Winfield, I.J. & Wanless, S. 2016. Phenological sensitivity to climate across taxa and trophic levels. Nature 535: 241-245. 

Eglington, S.M., Brereton, T.M., Tayleur, C.M., Noble, D., Risely, K., Roy, D.B. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2015. Patterns and causes of covariation in bird and butterfly community structure. Landscape Ecology DOI 10.1007/s10980-015-0199-z

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Eglington, S.M, Martay, B. & Chamberlain, D.E. 2015. Drivers of climate change impacts on bird communities. Journal of Animal Ecology DOI:10.1111/1365-2656.12364.

Gillingham, P.K., Bradbury, R.B., Roy, D.B., Anderson, B.J., Baxter, J.M., Bourn, N.A.D., Crick, H.Q.P., Findon, R.A., Fox, R., Franco, A., Hodgson, J.A., Holt, A.R., Morecroft, M.D., O’Hanlon, N.J., Oliver, T.H., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Hill, J.K., Procter, D.A., Thomas, J.A., Walker, K.J., Walmsley, C.A., Wilson, R.J., Thomas, C.D. 2015. The effectiveness of protected areas to conserve species undertaking geographic range shifts. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Sullivan, M.J.P., Newson, S.E. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2015. Evidence for the buffer effect operating in multiple species at a national scale. Biology Letters 11:20140930

Douglas, D.J.T., Bellamy, P.E., Stephen, L.S., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Wilson, J.D. & Grant, M.C. 2014. Upland land use predicts population decline in a globally near-threatened wader. Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 194-203

Douglas, D.J.T. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2014. Relative importance of prey abundance and habitat structure as drivers of shorebird breeding success and abundance. Animal Conservation 17: 535-543

Eglington, S.M., Julliard, R., Gargallo, G., van der Jeugd, H.P., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Baillie, S.R. & Robinson, R.A. 2014. Latitudinal gradients in the productivity of European migrant warblers have not shifted northwards during a period of climate change. Global Ecol. Biogeogr.

Finch, T., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Leech, D.I. & Evans, K.L. 2014. Carry-over effects from passage regions are more important than breeding climate in determining the breeding phenology and performance of three avian migrants of conservation concern. Biodiversity and Conservation 23: 2427-2444

Harrison, P.J., Buckland, S.T., Yuan, Y., Elston, D.A., Brewer, M.J., Johnston, A. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2014. Assessing trends in biodiversity over space and time using the example of British breeding birds. Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 1650-1660

Johnston, A., Newson, S.E., Risely, K., Musgrove, A.J., Massimino, D., Baillie, S.R. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2014. Species traits explain variation in detectability of UK birds. Bird Study 61: 340-350

Howard, C., Stephens, P.A., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Gregory, R.D. & Willis, S.G. 2014. Improving species distribution models: the value of data on abundance. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5: 506-513

Newson, S.E., Oliver, T.H., Gillings, S., Crick, H.Q.P., Morecroft, M.D., Duffield, S.J., Macgregor, N.A. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2014. Can site and landscape-scale environmental attributes buffer bird populations against weather events? Ecography 37: 872-882

Ockendon, N., Baker, D.J., Carr, J.A., Almond, R.E.A., Amano, T., Bertram, E., Bradbury, R.B., Bradley, C., Butchart, S.H.M., Doswald, N., Foden, W., Gill, D.J.C., Green, R.E., Sutherland, W.J., Tanner, E.V.J. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2014. Mechanisms underpinning climatic impacts on natural populations: altered species interactions are more important than direct effects. Global Change Biology 20: 2221-2229

Chamberlain, D. & Pearce-Higgins, J. 2013. Impacts of climate change on upland birds: complex interactions, compensatory mechanisms and the need for long-term data. Ibis 155: 451-455.

Johnston, A., Ausden, M., Dodd, A.M., Bradbury, R.B., Chamberlain, D.E., Jiguet, F., Thomas, C.D., Cook, A.S.C.P., Newson, S.E., Ockendon, N., Rehfisch, M.M., Roos, S., Thaxter, C.B., Brown, A., Crick, H.Q.P., Douse, A., McCall, R.A., Pontier, H., Stroud, D.A., Cadiou, B., Crowe, O., Deceuninck, B., Hornman, M. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2013. Observed and predicted effects of climate change on species abundance in protected areas. Nature Climate Change 3: 1055–1061

Newson, S.E., Massimino, D., Johnston, A., Baillie, R. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2013. Should we account for detectability in population trends? Bird Study 60: 384-390.

Ockendon, N., Leech, D. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2013. Climate effects on breeding grounds are more important drivers of breeding phenology in migrant birds than carry-over effects from wintering grounds. Biology Letters 9: 20130669

Grant, M.C. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2012. Spatial variation and habitat relationships in moorland bird assemblages: a British perspective. In Birds and habitat. Relationships in changing landscapes. Fuller, R.J. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 207-236.

Le Viol, I., Jiguet, F., Brotons, L., Herrando, S., Lindstro¨m, A., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Reif, J., Van Turnhout, C. & Devictor, V. 2012. More and more generalists: two decades of changes in the European avifauna. Biology Letters, 8. 780–782.

Minderman, J., Pendlebury, C.J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Park, K.J. 2012. Experimental Evidence for the Effect of Small Wind Turbine Proximity and Operation on Bird and Bat Activity. PLoS ONE 7, e41177.

Thomas, C.D., Gillingham, P.K., Bradbury, R.B., Roy, D.B., Anderson, B.J., Baxter, J.M., Bourn, N.A.D., Crick, H.Q.P., Findon, R.A., Fox, R., Hodgson, J.A., Holt, A.R., Morecroft, M.D., O’Hanlon, N., Oliver, T.H., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Procter, D.A., Thomas, J.A., Walker, K.J., Walmsley, C.A., Wilson, R.J. & Hill, J.K. 2012. Protected areas facilitate species’ range expansions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109, 14063-14068.

Douglas, D.J.T., Follestad, A., Langston, R.H.W. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2012. Modelled sensitivity of avian collision rate at wind turbines varies with number of hours of flight activity input data. Ibis doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2012.01239.x

Eglington, S.M. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2012. Disentangling the Relative Importance of Changes in Climate and Land-Use Intensity in Driving Recent Bird Population Trends. PLoS ONE 7(3): e30407. (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030407)

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Stephen, L., Douse, A. & Langston, R.H.W. 2012. Greater impacts of wind farms on bird populations during construction than subsequent operation: results of a multi-site and multi-species analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 386-394. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02110.x/full)

Renwick, A.R., Johston, A., Joys, A., Newson, S.E., Noble, D.G. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2012. Composite bird indicators robust to variation in species selection and habitat specificity. Ecological Indicators 18:200-207.

Renwick, A.R., Massimino, D., Newson, S.E., Chamberlain, D.E., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Johnston, A. 2012. Modelling changes in species’ abundance in response to projected climate change. Diversity & Distributions 18: 121-132.

Amar, A., Grant, M., Buchanan, G., Sim, I., Wilson, J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Redpath, S. 2011. Exploring the relationships between wader declines and current land-use in the British uplands. Bird Study 58: 13–26.

Bradbury, R.B., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Wotton, S.R., Conway, G.J. & Grice, P.V.  2011. The influence of climate and topography in patterns of territory establishment in a range-expanding bird. Ibis 153:336-344.

Carroll, M.J., Dennis, P., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Thomas, C.D. 2011. Maintaining northern peatland ecosystems in a changing climate: effects of soil moisture, drainage and drain blocking on craneflies. Global Change Biology 17: 2991-3001.

Douglas, D.J.T., Bellamy, P.E. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2011. Changes in the abundance and distribution of upland breeding birds at an operational wind farm. Bird Study 58: 37–43.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2011. Modelling conservation management options for a southern range-margin population of Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria vulnerable to climate change. Ibis 153: 345-356.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2011. How ecological science can help manage the effects of climate change: a case study of upland birds. In Marrs, S.J., Foster, S., Hendrie, C., Mackey, E.C. & Thompson, D.B.A. (eds) The Changing Nature of Scotland. TSO Scotland, Edinburgh Pp397-414.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Bradbury, R.B., Chamberlain, D.E., Drewitt, A., Langston, R.H.W. & Willis, S.G. 2011. Targeting research to underpin climate change adaptation for birds.   Ibis 153: 207-211. 

Evans, R.J., Pearce-Higgins, J., Whitfield, P.D., Grant, J.R., Maclennan, A. & Reid, R. 2010. Comparative nest habitat characteristics of sympatric White-tailed Haliaeetus albicilla and Gold Eagles Aquila chrysaetos in western Scotland. Bird Study 57: 473:482. 

Green, R.E. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2010. Species management in the face of a changing climate. In Baxter, J.M. & Galbraith, C.A. (eds) Species Management: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century. TSO Scotland, Edinburgh, p 517-536.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2010. Using diet to assess the sensitivity of northern and upland birds to climate change. Climate Research 45: 119-130.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Gill, J.A. 2010. Unravelling the mechanisms linking climate change, agriculture and avian population declines. Ibis 152: 439-442.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Dennis, P., Whittingham, M.J. & Yalden, D.W. 2010. Impacts of climate on prey abundance account for fluctuations in a population of a northern wader at the southern edge of its range. Global Change Biology 16: 12-23.

Contact Details

Email: james.pearce-higgins [at] bto.org
Telephone: 01842 750050
Fax: 01842 750030
Postal address: British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24 2PU, UK