Scientists offer new method for prioritizing the conservation of endangered birds

"Not all species are evolutionarily equal -- some have few close relatives that share their DNA," explained Dr. Gavin Thomas.
By Brooks Hays   |   April 11, 2014 at 12:01 PM

SHEFFIELD, England, April 11 (UPI) -- Ornithologists have developed a list of 600 birds from around the world that are all at risk of extinction. Now more than ever, the scientists say, humans need to get serious about protecting these vulnerable species and conserving their shrinking habitats.

But with so many threatened species, how do we choose which one to save first? Unfortunately, indecision often translates to inaction. That's why scientists have prioritized this new list.

To promote a more decisive and proactive approach to avian conservation, the scientists -- including a number of leading ornithologists from the University of Sheffield -- developed a different approach to bird conservation by ranking the species according to evolutionary uniqueness.

At the top are the most genetically-isolated and unusual birds, which evolved earlier or had fewer surviving relatives. Species that emerged more recently and have a larger array of common relatives move to the bottom of the list.

"Not all species are evolutionarily equal -- some have few close relatives that share their DNA," explained Dr. Gavin Thomas, an evolutionary biologist at Sheffield's’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences. "These species are irreplaceable. If they are driven to extinction, millions of years or evolutionary history goes with them."

According to the new list, the top ten birds most worth saving are, in order of most unique and endangered to least: giant ibis, New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar, California condor, kakapo, kagu, Bengal florican, forest owlet, Philippine eagle, Christmas Island frigatebird, and Sumatran ground-cuckoo.

[University of Sheffield]

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