All birds may end up with large beaks and fuzzy plumage as climate change threatens to wipe out species with more “extreme” features.
- Birds with ‘extreme’ features are more at risk of extinction due to climate change
- Scientists find biodiversity loss in birds likely to happen faster than expected
- Some species also develop larger beaks to help maintain body temperature.
- The results show that we may be losing species with unique traits that are beneficial to humans.
Soon you may not be able to tell a pigeon from a parrot as climate change threatens to wipe out birds with more extreme physical features.
A new study from the University of Sheffield suggests they are adapting to global warming by developing larger beaks and losing distinctive features.
Scientists have found that the smallest and largest birds in the world are probably the most endangered.
They also found that the loss of diversity could happen faster than we might expect based on species loss alone.
This could lead to the extinction of birds with unique traits that could benefit humans.
Lead author Dr Emma Hughes said: “As species go extinct, you expect the traits they represent to be lost as well.
“But we found that with morphological diversity, traits were lost much, much, much faster than species extinction alone would have predicted.
“This is really important because it can lead to a serious loss of ecological strategies and functions.”
The stork-billed kingfisher (pictured) lives in tropical parts of Southeast Asia, where there is a risk of biodiversity loss due to climate change, according to the study.
Scientists have found that the smallest and largest birds in the world are probably the most endangered. Ostriches are the largest living birds in the world (pictured)
MAMMALS ALSO SHAP
According to researchers from Australia’s Deakin University, mammal species are also undergoing marked changes.
While most studies on the impact of climate change on mammals have focused on overall body size, some researchers have observed changes in individual appendages.
For example, wood mice grow longer tails, while masked shrews grow larger tails and legs.
Bats have also been found to have increased in size in their ears, tail, legs and wings in tandem with warming.
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The study, published today in Current Biology, describes how the team analyzed physical traits, such as body size, beak shape, 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 “endangered”, “endangered” and “vulnerable” have become extinct, by progressively removing species from those that are endangered.
They found that as species disappeared, so did the diversity of their physical characteristics, and they tended to have small to medium body sizes and short bills.
The size and shape of the birds vary greatly, from the giant flightless ostrich to the tiny buzzing hummingbird.
Dr Hughes said: “We found strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the largest and smallest species are probably at the highest risk of extinction.”
Like humans, birds are warm-blooded, so they must maintain a body temperature higher than the environment.
The researchers also found that birds are developing larger beaks to keep temperatures constant as the climate changes.
Parrot bills, for example, have risen ten percent more in the 150 years since the Industrial Revolution began.
The results of the study showed that species with extreme features, such as unique plumage, are more likely to be lost as a result of the effects of climate change. Pictured are black and red cottonmouths found in Cambodia, an area at risk of bird biodiversity loss.
In some regions, populations of bird species that are similar to each other are more likely to remain as their extreme traits gradually disappear. Pictured is a Siberian blue robin.
The study found that some regions are more likely to retain populations of bird species that are similar to each other as their extreme features fade away.
Bird researcher Dr Hughes said: “The Himalayan mountains and foothills are at particular risk and the loss of trait diversity is likely to be significant.
“The dry and wet forests of southern Vietnam and Cambodia are also vulnerable.
“These include the Siberian blue robin, the stork-billed kingfisher, the black-and-red broad-beak, 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 means not only that we are losing species.
“This means we are losing unique traits and evolutionary history, including species that could provide humanity with unique benefits that are currently unknown.”
Future warming threatens marine life in more than 70 percent of the most biodiverse regions of the oceans.
More than 70 percent of the world’s most biodiverse oceans are at risk from climate change.
The researchers determined where the species would have to move to find habitable space in the warmer oceans.
They used a new technique to compare past and future ocean warming extremes, allowing them to map the world’s exposure to future climate change and determine the distances species would have to move to find better climate conditions.
“Our study shows that areas with exceptionally high marine biodiversity are most susceptible to future ocean warming, making them particularly vulnerable to 21st century climate change,” said lead author Dr Stuart Brown of the University of Adelaide’s Institute of Environment.
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New research shows that some of Earth’s most biodiverse ocean regions are under threat from climate change. Left: A caretta caretta Right: Gray reef shark and blacktip reef shark
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