Birds could all end up with large beaks and indistinct plumage – as climate change threatens to wipe out species with more “extreme” traits
- Birds with “extreme” traits are at greater risk of extinction due to climate change
- Scientists found that biodiversity loss in birds is likely to happen faster than expected
- Species also evolve larger beaks to maintain their body temperatures
- 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 your pigeon from your parrot 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 evolving large beaks and losing distinctive features.
Scientists discovered that the world’s smallest and largest birds are probably the most threatened with extinction.
They also found that diversity loss could be happening faster than we would expect from species loss alone.
This could lead to the extinction of birds with unique traits that could benefit humans.
The lead author Dr. Emma Hughes said: “When species become extinct, one expects that the traits they represent will also be lost.
“But what we found was that with morphological diversity, traits were being lost at a much, much, much greater rate than just species loss could predict.
“This is really important because it can result in a significant loss of ecological strategies and functions.”
The cranesbill kingfisher (pictured) is found in tropical parts of Southeast Asia, an area at risk of biodiversity loss due to climate change, according to the study
Scientists discovered that the world’s smallest and largest birds are probably the most threatened with extinction. Ostriches are the world’s largest living bird (pictured)
MAMMALS ALSO CHANGE SHAPE
According to researchers at Australia’s Deakin University, mammal species are also subject to noticeable change.
While most studies of the effects of climate change on mammals have focused on overall body size, some researchers have observed changes in specific limbs.
For example, wood mice grow longer tails, while masked shrews develop larger tails and legs.
Bats have also been found to increase in ear, tail, leg and wing size in parallel with warming.
The study published today in Current Biologydescribes how the team analyzed physical traits such as body size, beak shape, and leg and wing length of 8,455 bird species from around the world from museum collections.
They then modeled how biodiversity would change in a world where species currently classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Vulnerable’ and ‘Vulnerable’ become extinct, sequentially ranking species from least to extinction remove endangered species.
They found that as the species declined, so did the diversity of their physical characteristics, and they tended to have small to medium body sizes and short beaks.
Birds vary greatly in size and shape – from the huge, flightless ostrich to the tiny, humming hummingbird.
dr Hughes said, “We find strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the largest and smallest species are probably the most threatened with extinction.”
Like humans, birds are warm-blooded, so they must maintain a higher body temperature than their environment.
The researchers also found that birds are developing larger beaks to help them maintain a constant temperature during climate change.
Parrot beaks, for example, have grown by up to 10 percent in the 150 years since the start of the industrial revolution.
The results of the study indicated that species with extreme traits such as unique plumage are most likely to be lost as a result of climate change impacts. Pictured are black-and-red broadsbills that live in Cambodia – an area at risk of avian biodiversity loss
Certain regions are more likely to leave behind populations of bird species that resemble one another as their extreme characteristics are phased out. Pictured is the Siberian Bluethroat
The study found that certain regions are more likely to have populations of bird species that resemble one another as their extreme traits are phased out.
The bird researcher Dr. Hughes said: “The Himalayan range and foothills are particularly vulnerable and it is likely that the loss in trait diversity will be significant.
“The dry and wet forests of southern Vietnam and Cambodia are also vulnerable.
“These include the Siberian bluethroat, cranesbill kingfisher, black-and-red broadsbill, and oriental 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’re losing species.
“This means we are losing unique traits and evolutionary history, including species that could bring unique benefits to humanity that are currently unknown.”
Future warming threatens marine life in more than 70 percent of the ocean’s most biodiverse areas
More than 70 percent of the most biodiverse areas of the world’s oceans are threatened by climate change.
Researchers determined where species would need to move to find habitable space amid warming oceans.
They used a new technique to compare past and future extremes of ocean warming, which allowed them to map global exposure to future climate changes and determine distances species would need to travel to find better climate conditions.
“Our research shows that locations with exceptionally high levels of marine biodiversity are most exposed 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 Environment Institute.
Some of the world’s most biodiverse marine areas are threatened by climate change, new research shows. Left: A Caretta Caretta Right: Gray reef shark and blacktip reef sharks