The most unique birds on the planet would be the most exposed to extinction. This is suggested by a new study published in the journal Functional Ecology, which used data from live birds and museum specimens, for a total of 9,943 species analyzed.
According to the research, extreme combinations and unusual traits could be risk factors for these animals.
A study published in the journal Functional Ecology found that species with extreme combinations or distinctive traits would be the most threatened.
The study by researchers at Imperial College London analyzed the extinction risk and physical attributes, such as beak shape, wing length, tail and legs, of 99% of all living bird species, making it makes it the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.
One of their conclusions is that 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 authors combined morphological data with extinction risk, based on the current threat status of each species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Subsequently, they ran simulations of what would happen if the most threatened birds went extinct.
“Extinctions will most likely lead to the loss of a large proportion of unique avian tree species. This will mean diminishing the specialized roles they play in ecosystems,” said Jarome Ali, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University and lead author of the study.
Among the morphologically unique and threatened bird species are the Christmas hornbill (Fregata andrewsi), which only nests on Christmas Island, and the Pacific curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), which migrates each year from its breeding grounds in Alaska to the islands of the South Pacific.
In particular, although the analyzed dataset demonstrated that rare birds were also listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, it could not demonstrate the link between species uniqueness and extinction risk.
Jarome Ali suggested that “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 functions. More research is needed to delve deeper into the connection between unique traits and extinction risk.”
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