Quarter of world’s bird species face extinction threat

A tenth of the world's bird species are likely to have vanished by the year 2100, with another 15% on the brink of extinction, a group of scientists have warned.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University biologists, Ecosystem Consequences of Bird Declines, this dramatic loss will have a negative impact on forest ecosystems and agriculture around the world, and could even encourage the spread of human diseases.

“Our projections indicate that, by 2100, up to 14% of all bird species may be extinct, and that as many as one in four may be endangered to extinct,” said Cagan Sekercioglu, research and lead author of the study.

“Important ecosystems processes, particularly decomposition, pollination and seed dispersal, will likely decline as a result.”

These finds follow close behind the recent global species assessment by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which reported 12% of birds to already be facing extinction, along with almost one fourth of the world’s mammals, one third of amphibians (see related story) and nearly half of the world’s turtles and tortoises.

“Given the momentum of climate change, widespread habitat loss and increasing number of invasive species, avian declines and extinction are predicted to continue unabated in the near future,” the report stated.

The comprehensive study was based on a thorough analysis of 9,787 living and 129 extinct bird species, based on the conservation, distribution, ecological function and life history of each type of bird.

Island birds were particularly at risk, according to the authors with between a third and a half of all oceanic island species expected to be extinct or on the brink of extinction by 2100.

“The societal importance of ecosystem services is often appreciated only upon their loss,” Mr Sekercioglu concluded. “Disconcertingly, avian declines may in fact portray a best-case scenario, since fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals are nearly three times more threatened than birds.”

By Jane Kettle

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