Birds could all end up with big beaks and similar plumage – as climate change threatens to wipe out species with more ‘extreme’ characteristics
- Birds with ‘extreme’ characteristics are more at risk of extinction due to climate change
- Scientists have found that biodiversity loss in birds may be faster than expected
- Species also develop larger beaks to maintain their body temperature
- The results show that we can lose species with unique properties that are beneficial to humans
Soon you may not be able to tell your pigeon from your parrot as climate change threatens to wipe out birds with more extreme physical characteristics.
New research from the University of Sheffield suggests they are adapting to global warming by developing large beaks and losing distinctive features.
The scientists found that the world’s smallest and largest birds are probably the most threatened with extinction.
They also found that the loss of diversity could happen faster than we would expect based on the loss of species alone.
This could lead to extinction of birds with unique traits that benefit humans.
Lead author Dr Emma Hughes said: ‘When species die out, you expect the traits they represent to be lost as well.
‘But what we found was that with morphological diversity, traits were lost much, much, much faster than just predicting species loss.
‘That is very important, because it can lead to a major loss of ecological strategies and functions.’
The stork-billed kingfisher (pictured) is found in tropical parts of Southeast Asia, an area the study says is at risk of biodiversity loss due to climate change
The scientists found that the world’s smallest and largest birds are probably the most threatened with extinction. Ostriches are the world’s largest living bird (photo)
NUMBERS ALSO CHANGE SHAPE
According to researchers from Australia’s Deakin University, mammalian species are also undergoing noticeable changes.
While most studies on the effects of climate change on mammals have focused on overall body size, some researchers have observed changes in certain appendages.
For example, wood mice get longer tails, while masked shrews get bigger tails and legs.
Bats have also been found to have increased their ear, tail, leg and wing sizes in conjunction with warming.
Read more here
The study, published today in Current Biologydescribes how the team analyzed physical features, such as body size, beak shape, and leg and wing length, of 8,455 bird species around the world from museum collections.
They then modeled how biodiversity would change in a world where species currently classified as ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ and ‘vulnerable’ go extinct, sequentially removing species from those at most to the least threatened.
They found that as species were lost, so did the diversity in their physical features, and they tended to have small to medium body sizes and short beaks.
The size and shape of birds vary greatly – from the giant, flightless ostrich to the small, humming hummingbird.
dr. Hughes said: ‘We find strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the largest and smallest species are probably at greatest risk of extinction.’
Like humans, birds are warm-blooded, so they must maintain a body temperature that is higher than their environment.
The researchers also found that birds develop larger beaks to help them maintain a constant temperature as the climate changes.
For example, parrots’ beaks have expanded by up to ten percent in the 150 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The results of the study showed that species with extreme characteristics, such as unique plumage, are most likely to be lost due to the effects of climate change. Pictured are black-and-red broadbills, which live in Cambodia – an area at risk of biodiversity loss in birds
In certain regions, they are more likely to retain populations of similar bird species as their extreme features gradually disappear. Pictured is the Siberian Blue Robin
The study found that certain regions are more likely to be left with populations of bird species that resemble each other as their extreme traits are phased out.
Bird researcher Dr. Hughes said: ‘The Himalayan range and foothills are particularly at risk, and it is likely that the loss of distinctive diversity will be significant.
‘The dry and moist forests of South Vietnam and Cambodia are also vulnerable.
“They include the Siberian bluethroat, the stork-billed kingfisher, the black-and-red broadbill and the eastern paradise flycatcher.”
The team hopes their work will help people understand how biodiversity loss will change the world.
She added: “The global extinction crisis doesn’t just mean we are losing species.
“It means we’re losing unique traits and evolutionary history, including species that could provide unique benefits to humanity that are currently unknown.”
Future warming threatens marine life in more than 70 percent of the most biodiverse areas of oceans
More than 70 percent of the most biodiverse areas of the world’s oceans are threatened by climate change.
Researchers determined where species would have to move to find habitable space amid the warming oceans.
They used a new technique to compare past and future extremes of ocean warming, allowing them to map global exposure to future climate change and determine distances species would have to move to find better climate conditions.
“Our research shows that sites with exceptionally high marine biodiversity are the most exposed to future oceanic warming, making them particularly vulnerable to 21st century climate change,” said lead author Dr. Stuart Brown of the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.
Read more here
Some of Earth’s most biodiverse ocean areas are under threat from climate change, new research reveals. Left: A caretta caretta Right: Gray Reef Shark and Blacktip Reef Shark