Study of 99% of all living bird species

Agami heron (Agamia agami). Credit: Joe Tobias

Bird species with extreme or uncommon combinations of traits are at the greatest 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 finds that the most unique birds on the planet 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 endangered and physical attributes (such as beak shape and wing length) of 99% of all living bird species, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.

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

Bird species that are both morphologically unique and threatened 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 islands of the South Pacific.

The most unique birds on the planet at the highest risk of extinction

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

Jarome Ali, a PhD. The Princeton University candidate who completed the research at Imperial College London and was the research’s lead author, said: ‘Our study shows that extinctions will most likely wipe out a large percentage of unique species from the tree. of birds.The loss of these unique species will mean a loss of the specialized roles they play in ecosystems.

“If we don’t act to protect threatened species and avert 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, covering a total of 9,943 bird species. The measurements included physical traits such as beak size and shape and the length of wings, tails and legs.

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

The most unique birds on the planet at the highest risk of extinction

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

While the dataset used in the study was able to show that even the most unique birds were classified as threatened on the Red List, it was unable to show what links bird uniqueness to extinction risk.

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 more unusual ecological roles. More research is needed to delve into this. the connection between traits 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

Citation: Planet’s Most Unique Birds Most Endangered: Study of 99% of All Living Bird Species (2022, Nov. 24) Retrieved Nov. 24, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-11 -planet-unique-birds -superior-extinction.html

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