Above: Least Concern but populations are decreasing, so could move up a gear on the road to extinction. Above, the scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber) © Shutterstock.com/Martin Mecnarowski


GLOBAL CONSERVATION ACTION has reduced the effective extinction rate of birds by 40 per cent, according to a new paper co-authored by BirdLife International’s chief scientist Dr Stuart Butchart.

Rather than just measuring extinctions over time it uses the IUCN Red List as a barometer, looking at birds migrating to different extinction risk categories.

This has revealed that, thanks to conservation efforts over the past 28 years, Critically Endangered species are now twice as likely to move to a lower threat category as they are to deteriorate or go extinct.

In fact, the 40 per cent figure is a low estimate as the study did not reflect conservation endeavours that resulted in species remaining in the same category rather than toppling closer to extinction.

Most conservation work has been directed at preventing high-risk species from going extinct rather than ensuring that birds in lower risk categories don’t move up a notch.

A more effective solution, and often a cheaper, simpler and more practical one, would be to prevent species with healthy populations from becoming threatened in the first place, says the study, published in Biology Letters last November.

“World governments will meet in 2020 to develop a new framework for tackling biodiversity loss through the Convention on Biological Diversity [planned for February 24-29 in China],” said Dr Butchart.

He continued: “Our results show it is critical that this includes commitments to prevent extinctions, but also to keep common birds common.”

It is urgent that the world ramps up conservation action now, as the study methods also suggested that over the next 500 years “471 species would go extinct, about three times as many as we have lost over the past 500 years.” About 109 of these are projected to be species currently classified as Least Concern.

“Now we need commitments from governments to give nature conservation the priority it deserves, and to recognise that our own future depends upon this,” concluded Dr Butchart.

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