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The Somali ostrich is now recognised as a separate species, but it's listed as 'vulnerable' owing to hunting, egg collecting and other threats. Photo: Steve Garvie via Flickr, taken in Kenya's Rift Valley.
The Somali ostrich is now recognised as a separate species, but it's listed as 'vulnerable' owing to hunting, egg collecting and other threats. Photo: Steve Garvie via Flickr, taken in Kenya's Rift Valley.
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A quarter of 361 newly-recognised birds are 'threatened'

The Ecologist

24th July 2014

A global taxonomic review of birds has 'discovered' 361 new species that were previously considered 'races' of existing bird species - but many of them are endangered, forcing a rethink of conservation priorities.

The Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focussing the conservation agenda.

An assessment of the conservation status of 361 'new' bird species has been carried out by BirdLife International for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

And it reveals that 25% of them are 'threatened' - compared with 13% of all birds - making them urgent priorities for conservation action.

Species such as Belem Curassow Crax pinima from Brazil and Desertas Petrel Pterodroma deserta from Madeira have been listed as Globally Threatened. In the case of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus, a beautiful hummingbird from Colombia, it may already be too late, as the species has not been seen for nearly 70 years.

Avian species understated by 8%

The review has so far focussed only on 'non-passerine birds' which include birds of prey, seabirds, waterbirds and owls. Including the 361 'new' species, there is now a total of 4,472 non-passerines - implying that previous classifications have understated avian diversity at the species level by 8%.

The new criteria for determining which taxa qualify as species have created a level playing field, by which all bird species can be assessed equally.

They also bring an added precision to help us shine a light on the places most important for birds, nature and people - the areas of the planet that we need to urgently protect and save.

For example only one species of Ostrich had been recognised and was assessed as 'Least Concern'. However, the Somali Ostrich Struthiomolybdophanes, which is found in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, is now recognised as a distinct species and listed as Vulnerable.

Threats from fire, roads, egg-collecting, hunting

Its population is thought to be in rapid decline because of hunting, egg-collecting and persecution, and its status could worsen if action is not taken soon.

"This species highlights both the need for improved knowledge of the world's birds and the need for conservation action in some of the most challenging parts of the globe", said Andy Symes, BirdLife's Global Species Officer.

As well as assessing newly recognised species, the 2014 Red List also re-assesses the status of some existing species. The colourful Bugun Liocichla Liocichla bugunorum is known from only three small areas in the Himalayas of eastern India, where just a few pairs have been located.

Following the recent construction of a road through its habitat, and damage caused by uncontrolled fires, the species has been re-classified as 'Critically Endangered'.

Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatusis recovering in Europe, but globally it is declining because of poisoning, disturbance and collisions with powerlines, and it has now been uplisted from 'Least Concern' to 'Near Threatened'.

Biodiversity hotspots under threat in Southeast Asia

The 2014 assessment also raises the importance of several threatened bird hotspots. Many of the newly recognised species are found in South-East Asia, where biodiversity is highly threatened. Parts of this region have already been identified as globally important areas of endemism (holding many species that occur nowhere else on Earth).

Some have now been shown to host even more unique species than previously thought, including the Indonesian islands of Talaud and Sangihe and parts of the Philippine archipelago, such as the island of Cebu.

These areas need immediate conservation attention to protect the remaining habitat and safeguard the future of Critically Endangered birds such as Sangihe Dwarf-kingfisher Ceyx sangirensis and Cebu Brown-dove Phapitreron frontalis - neither of which have been recorded recently, but both could still be clinging on in small numbers.

There are also some worrying implications for conservation on the Indonesian island of Java. Newly recognised species such as Javan Flameback Chrysocolaptes strictus (a Vulnerable woodpecker) and Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher Alcedo euryzona (Critically Endangered) show how the island has evolved many distinct species, but Java's very high human population density means these species are now highly threatened.

Setting new conservation priorities

"The updated 2014 Red List for birds will help set future conservation and funding priorities", said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Head of Science.

"The Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focussing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be saved, including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas."

 

 

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