The Earth's Most Unique Birds at High Risk of Extinction: Studying 99% of All Living Bird Species

The Earth’s Most Unique Birds at High Risk of Extinction: Studying 99% of All Living Bird Species

The most unique birds on the planet threatened with extinction

Agami heron (Agamia agami). Credit: Joe Tobias

Bird species with extreme or uncommon combinations of traits face the highest risk of extinction, a new study finds. The results are published in the journal Functional ecology.

A new study by researchers at Imperial College London reveals that the planet’s most unique birds are also the most endangered. The loss of these species and the unique roles they play in the environment, such as seed dispersal, pollination and predation, could have serious consequences for ecosystem functioning.

The study analyzed the extinction risk and physical attributes (such as beak shape and wing length) of 99% of all living bird species, making it the most comprehensive study ever. this guy so far.

The researchers found that in simulated scenarios in which all threatened and near-threatened bird species disappeared, there would be a significantly greater reduction in physical (or morphological) diversity among birds than in scenarios where extinctions were random.

Bird species that are both morphologically unique and endangered include the Christmas Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), which nests only on Christmas Island, and the Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), which migrates annually from its breeding grounds in Alaska to the South Pacific Islands. .

The most unique birds on the planet threatened with extinction

Blyth’s kingfisher (Alcedo hercules). Credit: Joe Tobias

Jarome Ali, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University who completed the research at Imperial College London and was the lead author of the research, said: “Our study shows that extinctions will most likely prune a large proportion of unique species from the avian tree.The loss of these unique species will mean a loss of the specialized roles they play in ecosystems.

“If we do not act to protect endangered species and avoid extinctions, the functioning of ecosystems will be dramatically disrupted.”

In the study, the authors used a dataset of measurements collected from live birds and museum specimens, totaling 9,943 bird species. Measurements included physical characteristics such as beak size and shape, as well as wing, tail and leg length.

The authors combined morphological data with extinction risk, based on each species’ current threat status on the IUCN Red List. They then ran simulations of what would happen if the most endangered birds disappeared.

The most unique birds on the planet threatened with extinction

Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitensis). Credit: Joe Tobias

Although the dataset used in the study was able to show that the most unique birds were also classified as endangered on the Red List, it was unable to show what links the uniqueness of birds to the risk of extinction.

Jarome Ali said: “One possibility is that highly specialized organisms are less able to adapt to a changing environment, in which case human impacts may directly threaten species with the most unusual ecological roles. Further research is needed to further investigate the link between unique characteristics and risk of extinction.”

More information:
Jarome Ali et al, Bird extinctions threaten to cause disproportionate reductions in functional diversity and uniqueness, Functional ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.14201

Provided by the British Ecological Society

Quote: The Earth’s Most Unique Birds at Risk of Extinction: A Survey of 99% of All Living Bird Species (2022, November 24) Retrieved November 24, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022- 11-planet-unique-birds-higher-extinction.html

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