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Environment

Planet's Most Unique Birds At Higher Risk Of Extinction

The Hawk
November25/ 2022

Birds

London: According to a recent study, bird species with unusual or severe combinations of features are most at risk of going extinct. The results are presented in the journal Functional Ecology by the British Ecological Society.

The most distinctive birds on the planet, according to a recent study done by scientists at Imperial College London, are also the most endangered. The loss of these species and their distinctive ecological functions, such as seed dispersal, pollination, and predation, could negatively impact ecosystem health.

The study, which is the most thorough to date, examined the extinction risk and physical characteristics (such as wing length and beak shape) of 99 per cent of all living bird species.

The scientists discovered that there would be a noticeably greater reduction in the physical (or morphological) diversity among birds in simulated scenarios were all threatened and near-threatened bird species went extinct than in scenarios where extinctions were random.

The Christmas Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), which only breeds on Christmas Island, and the Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), which makes an annual migration from its breeding grounds in Alaska to South Pacific islands, are two bird species that are both morphologically distinctive and endangered. 

Jarome Ali, a PhD 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. Losing these unique species will mean a loss of the specialised roles that they play in ecosystems.

"If we do not take action to protect threatened species and avert extinctions, the functioning of ecosystems will be dramatically disrupted."

The authors of the study employed a dataset of measurements taken from 9943 different bird species, both living birds and museum specimens. Physical characteristics such as beak size and form as well as the lengths of wings, tails, and legs were measured.

Based on the IUCN Red List's current threat classifications for each species, the authors linked the morphological data with the risk of extinction. Then they performed simulations to see what would occur if the most endangered bird species became extinct.

The information utilised in the study was able to demonstrate that the most distinctive birds were also listed as threatened on the Red List, but it was unable to demonstrate the relationship between avian uniqueness and extinction risk.

Jarome Ali said: "One possibility is that highly specialised 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. More research is needed to delve deeper into the connection between unique traits and extinction risk." —ANI