Predicting extinction risk to birds with a model

October 13, 2010 By Bill Hathaway

( -- Yale University researchers have developed a tool for biodiversity conservation in the face of global change: a statistical model that helps predict the risk of extinction for almost 90% of the world’s bird species.

“Our global study confirms and extends existing knowledge about what makes some species more threatened than others,” says Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-author of the research published online October 13 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Several factors such as large body size, specialized lifestyle, slow reproduction and a narrow geographic distribution all increase threats to survival. So does human encroachment. However, it has not been shown before how these factors interact with each other to threaten species’ survival.

Using vast amounts of ecological and environmental data, species range maps and even satellite imagery, the researchers developed a model that disentangles the more “static” causes of such as body size from human-induced environmental change such as expansion of agricultural lands.

“With the help of satellite images, we can now readily capture regions where humans have had a particularly devastating effect on the landscape,” says Jetz.

For instance, the Barred Eagle Owl (Bubo sumatranus) a mid-size bird native to tropical southeast Asia, is relatively rare throughout its range and suffers from heavy encroachment by humans. However, because its geographic range is large, the species is not globally threatened with extinction. This contrasts with the case of the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus), a larger bird restricted to the Guatemalan and Mexican cloud forests. It suffers similar encroachment, but because its distribution is narrow, it is highly threatened with extinction.

Building on the species Red List or threat assessments provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Jetz and co-author Tien Ming Lee, a visiting researcher from University of California, San Diego, have identified key factors that put species at risk. The model, the most comprehensive integration of this sort to date, illustrates how the characteristics of species and variations in their habitats combine to make them more or less vulnerable to extinction.

More importantly, the model opens the door for a more dynamic assessment of threat through real-time monitoring of risk such as land-cover change, the authors say.

“By measuring the relative importance of human encroachment on species threat level, we now have a model that can used for predicting extinction risk in the face of ongoing as well as future change,” Lee says.

“We thus offer an approach for integrating and separating the different risk components that may help us estimate, and hopefully minimize, future risk of biodiversity,” Lee said.

Explore further: Threatened birds may be rarer than geographic range maps suggest

Related Stories

A mountain bird's survival guide to climate change

June 8, 2010

Researchers at Yale University have found that the risk of extinction for mountain birds due to global warming is greatest for species that occupy a narrow range of altitude. In fact, a species' vertical distribution is a ...

Extinction alert issued for 800 species

December 13, 2005

Conservation and environmental groups have compiled a list of nearly 800 species they say face imminent extinction. Most of the threatened species are found mainly in tropical areas, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Picky eating potentially perilous for bats

July 25, 2007

Working in the Department of Ecology and Organismal Biology, Justin Boyles and Jonathan Storm examined the possibility of a link between dietary specialization and the risk of extinction for bats in Australia, Europe and ...

Recommended for you

Typhoid fever toxin has a sweet tooth

December 11, 2017

Although the insidious bacterium Salmonella typhi has been around for centuries, very little is actually known about its molecular mechanisms. A new study from researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine addresses this ...

Researchers develop powerful new method for microbiome analysis

December 11, 2017

Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Sema4, and collaborating institutions New York University and the University of Florida today published a report detailing their new, more accurate method for identifying ...

Yeast can be engineered to create protein pharmaceuticals

December 11, 2017

It took several years, but a research team headed by Professor Jens Nielsen at Chalmers University of Technology has finally succeeded in mapping out the complex metabolism of yeast cells. The breakthrough, recently published ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.