University of Utah: What factors put birds in the Philippines in danger of extinction?
“Our study provides a roadmap not only for species that may warrant increased conservation attention,” says Kyle Kittelberger, a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. “But what traits a species may have that can help tell if it’s probably more threatened with extinction.”
Birds of the Philippines
Located in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is considered a global biodiversity hotspot and one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, home to nearly 600 species of birds. A high proportion of the wildlife is endemic to the country, which means it is not found anywhere else. The Philippines is also home to some of the greatest wealth of species recently identified as distinct from other closely related species, showing that scientists still have a lot to learn about Philippine ecosystems.
Over the past decade, the number of endemic species has increased from 172 to 258. This increase from 86 endemic species is more than all bird species endemic to China (67) or India (75) and more than any other country in South America or Africa. .
Çağan Şekercioğlu, associate professor at the School of Biological Sciences who has carried out ornithological fieldwork in more than 90 countries on all continents cannot forget his first visit to the islands.
“When I visited the Philippines for the first time in 2008, I was amazed by the diversity and especially the endemism of its avifauna, but also very depressed by the rapid loss of habitat,” he says. Field trips took hours due to heavy deforestation. “While searching for rare forest birds in the lowlands of Mindanao, we were literally trying to stay one step ahead of the loggers who were chopping down ancient trees in the rainforest a few hundred yards away from us,” he adds. he. Despite this, in 13 days he saw 161 species of birds he had never seen before – and he still has 163 species of birds left.
However, deforestation, habitat degradation and the exploitation of wildlife threaten this biodiversity. Southeast Asia, the authors write, is expected to lose more than a third of its biodiversity over the next century. The Philippines, in particular, ranks eighth in the world for the number of globally threatened bird species.
“There is an urgent need to assess the traits that make some species more endangered than others and to use this understanding to help inform conservation efforts,” Kittelberger said.
Characteristics of threatened birds
To understand the status of birds in the Philippines, researchers first determined which bird traits most predictive of extinction risk by correlating ecological and biological characteristics of bird species, including body mass, diet, altitude and clutch size (the number of eggs laid during the nesting period) with their conservation status. A species endemic to the Philippines was much more likely to face the risk of extinction, they found. Narrow altitude ranges, dependence on forests, and high body mass also put birds in danger of extinction.
Then the researchers turned around and assessed the expected conservation status of birds in the Philippines using these traits, comparing the expected conservation status with the conservation designations on the IUCN Red List. They found that 84 species would be in worse condition than their Red List designation, with 14 species that would be globally threatened (i.e. vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered) that are currently not. classified as such.
“We predicted that the Philippine Snake Eagle and the Twisted Hornbill, two species that are not currently recognized as globally threatened, are endangered and critically endangered, respectively,” Kittelberger said. “We have also predicted that the Palawan peacock pheasant, horn rail and Philippine eagle owl, three species currently recognized internationally as vulnerable, are likely endangered. All of these birds therefore deserve increased attention. in terms of conservation because they may be more threatened than currently believed. “
Lost before being found
Of the 84 species that would be most threatened, 12 were recently recognized as distinct species, and three of these were considered “vulnerable”.
“The Philippines has a very high level of endemism and it is currently estimated that there are twice as many bird species in the Philippines that have not yet been divided and officially recognized, so there is a real risk. to lose cash before it is described, “says Kittelberger.
Kittelberger says their research can be widely applied to assess the conservation status of birds across the region.
“The most important thing the Philippines can do to protect birds,” said Kittelberger, “is to address the high levels of deforestation, habitat degradation and exploitation of wildlife, and increase protecting land for wildlife and increasing funding for conservation efforts ”.
Find the full study here.
Co-authors also include Montague HC Neate-Clegg, J. David Blount and Çağan Şekercioğlu of the U’s School of Biological Sciences, Mary Rose C. Posa of the California Botanic Garden and John McLaughlin of the University of California at Santa Barbara. The study was funded by the Christensen Fund.
This press release was produced by the University of Utah. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.