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Human activities linked to 1,430 bird species extinctions 

A recent study led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) reveals the startling impact of human activities on bird populations worldwide. The research indicates that the number of human-driven bird extinctions is significantly greater than previously understood.

The study was led by Dr. Rob Cooke, an ecological modeler at UKCEH, and Dr. Søren Faurby of the University of Gothenburg

Human impacts

The researchers estimate that about 1,430 bird species have gone extinct due to human activities since the Late Pleistocene around 130,000 years ago. This number is double the current estimates and includes species that disappeared before written records, vanishing without a trace. 

“Our study demonstrates there has been a far higher human impact on avian diversity than previously recognized,” said Dr. Cooke.

“Humans have rapidly devastated bird populations via habitat loss, overexploitation and the introduction of rats, pigs and dogs that raided nests of birds and competed with them for food. We show that many species became extinct before written records and left no trace, lost from history.”

Biodiversity crisis from bird extinctions

“These historic extinctions have major implications for the current biodiversity crisis,” said Dr. Faurby. “The world may not only have lost many fascinating birds but also their varied ecological roles, which are likely to have included key functions such as seed dispersal and pollination.” 

“This will have had cascading harmful effects on ecosystems so, in addition to bird extinctions, we will have lost a lot of plants and animals that depended on these species for survival.”

Islands that were once undisturbed paradises, such as Hawaii, Tonga, and the Azores, have seen significant ecological changes due to human colonization, leading to bird extinctions

The study reveals that 90 percent of the 640 known bird extinctions since the Late Pleistocene occurred on islands with human inhabitants, including species like the Dodo of Mauritius and the Great Auk of the North Atlantic.

The researchers used statistical modeling to estimate undiscovered bird extinctions, revealing the largest human-driven vertebrate extinction event in history during the 14th century, primarily in the Eastern Pacific. They also identified a significant extinction event in the 9th century BC, related to human arrival in the Western Pacific and Canary Islands.

Ongoing threats

The ongoing extinction event, which began in the mid-18th century, poses additional threats from climate change, intensive agriculture, and pollution. 

The team’s model, based on known extinctions and research efforts compared to New Zealand – where the pre-human bird fauna is completely known – suggests the possibility of losing up to 700 more bird species in the next few centuries.

Dr. Cooke emphasizes the importance of conservation efforts. “Whether or not further bird species will go extinct is up to us. Recent conservation has saved some species and we must now increase efforts to protect birds, with habitat restoration led by local communities.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.


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