Global average temperature has increased by 0.74°C during last few decades, and is projected to further rise by up to 1.4–5.8°C by the end of this century (Schneider and Root, 1998; IPCC, 2001; Reilly et al. 2001; Hotta et al. 2019). Most landscapes and ecosystems were predicted be affected significantly due to changes in species distribution, composition, and productivity (Negi et al. 2012). Changes in temperature and precipitation may cause shifts in habitat and reduction in habitat of many species, and is projected to become the main threat to their survival (Hoffmann et al. 2019). Due to rise in temperature, it is roughly estimated that about 30% of plant and animal species (including a significant number of endemic species), may become extinct by the end of this century (IPCC, 2013; IPCC, 2014). Though species typically adapt to minor environmental fluctuations, however, it could take millennia for species to adapt and adjust their range in response too broad environmental and habitat changes that can result from climate change other changes to the environment (Luniak, 2004; Su et al. 2018). Currently, formulation of effective strategies for the conservation of biodiversity in the context of climate change has become a major concern among governmental and/ non-governmental organizations, scientists, and public (Keith et al. 2008; Moss et al. 2009; Fordham et al. 2020).
Previous studies have been reported that (due to rise in temperature) shifts in species range towards northeastern and northwestern regions of the northern temperate regions (Lehikoinen and Virkkala, 2016). The Himalayan ecosystems are considered as some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (IPCC,2014). The bird species in the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot are facing a range of threats due to consistent degradation and fragmentation of forested landscapes due to anthropogenic pressure (Tylianakis et al. 2008; Hu et al. 2015). Studies have reported that birds with limited ranges and lower mobility such as ground birds/ Galliformes are likely to be at high risk of extinction due to disturbances in mountainous regions and climate change (Sekercioğlu et al. 2012). The Galliformes, also known as ‘gallinaceous’, is a birds’ group that evolved as terrestrial birds and inhabit in a variety of habitats from deserts to forested landscapes (Coles, 2009). In spite of their attractive plumage and their role as indicators of habitat quality, these birds are among the least studied animals (Bagaria et al., 2021). The IUCN Red List described the worldwide distribution of 290 species of Galliformes (IUCN, 2011) in the families such as Phasianidae (181 species), Cracidae (51), Megapodidae (21), Odontophoridae (31) and Numididae (6) (BirdLife International, 2012). There are 17 species of ground birds (from the family Phasianidae) are currently distributed in Pakistan (McGowan et al., 2012; BirdLife International, 2016). The northern highlands of Pakistan (NHP) are part of the western Himalayan region and are rich in biodiversity, including some rare and endemic Galliformes/ ground bird species (Zahoor et al. 2021a).
The three sympatric Galliformes species, i.e., koklas pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha), monal pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus) and western horned tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus) are currently distributed in the forested landscapes of the NHP (Fig. 1, Shah et al. 2013; Awan and Francis, 2014; Ahmad et al. 2019). Though Pucrasia macrolopha and Lophophorus impejanus are categorized as Least Concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and Tragopan melanocephalus is considered Vulnerable, yet all three are being indicator species play a very important role in the maintenance of the ecosystem (Chhetri et al. 2021). The habitat regimes of Galliformes are under high anthropogenic pressure in the NHP and people are often involving in hunting and destruction of the breeding grounds of these species (Kabir et al. 2017; Ahmad et al. 2019; Zahoor et al. 2021a; Zahoor et al. 2021b). Now, climate change has become an additional threat to the persistence of such species due to changes in community structure and function of vegetation, which ultimately may lead to declines in their populations in the NHP (Santhakumar et al. 2018; Rai et al. 2020).
Extrapolating the current and future geographical distribution of species under climate change scenarios is one of the best approaches for the formulation of early conservational strategies (Songer et al. 2012; Dai et al. 2021; Zahoor et al. 2021c). Various ecological niche models use bioclimatic and non-climatic variables to explicate current distributions of species and further predict future distributions (Li et al. 2018). The Maximum Entropy Model (MaxEnt) has outstanding predictive power in simulation and evaluation of presence-only data, and create distribution maps and variable response curves by testing the reserved part of the training data (Phillips et al. 2006; Yang et al. 2013; Remya et al. 2015; Zhang et al. 2019).
Though some studies have addressed the GIS and modeling-based analysis of koklas, monal and tragopaon pheasants under climate change, no detailed research has been conducted on these species in the NHP (Singh et al. 2020; Bagaria et al. 2021; Chhetri et al. 2021). In our study, we projected suitable habitat of three Galliformes species under climate change, based on species presence data and used bioclimatic and non-climatic variables to predict the distribution of these species in the NHP. Our objectives were to: (i) project the current and future distribution of three Galliformes species, (ii) identify the potential climate refugia (static suitable habitat under the current and future scenarios) and (iii) propose implications for the management and conservation of these species. Our study provides useful baseline data and scientific information to inform governmental and non-governmental organizations developing early strategies for the conservation and management of these species in the NHP.