Unique birds are the most threatened

A new study finds that bird species with extreme or unusual combinations of traits face the greatest risk of extinction.

The findings of a team led by researchers from Imperial College London are published in the British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology.

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 the functioning of ecosystems.

The study looked at 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 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 where the extinctions were random.

Bird species that are morphologically unique and threatened include the Christmas frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), which nests only on Christmas Island, and the Pacific curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), which migrates from its breeding grounds in Alaska. to the South Pacific islands each year.

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

“If we don’t take measures to protect threatened species and avoid extinctions, the functioning of ecosystems will be drastically affected,” he said in a statement.

In the study, the authors used a data set of measurements collected from live birds and museum specimens, totaling 9,943 bird species. The measurements included physical traits such as the size and shape of the beak, and the length of the wings, tail, 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.

Although the data set used in the study was able to show that the most unique birds were also listed 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 can directly threaten species with the most unusual ecological roles. More research is needed to delve deeper into the connection between unique traits and extinction risk.”