Jan 062017
 


Birds (class Aves) are traditionally thought of as a well-studied group, with more than 95% of their global species diversity estimated to have been described.

Most checklists used by ornithologists as well as by bird watchers say that there are roughly between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds.

But those numbers are based on what’s known as the ‘biological species concept,’ which defines species in terms of what animals can breed together.

“It’s really an outdated point of view, and it’s a concept that is hardly used in taxonomy outside of birds,” said study lead author Dr. George Barrowclough, an associate curator in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Barrowclough and co-authors examined a random sample of 200 bird species through the lens of morphology — the study of the physical characteristics like plumage pattern and color, which can be used to highlight birds with separate evolutionary histories.

Toucan. Image credit: Tambako the Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0.

This method turned up, on average, nearly two different species for each of the 200 birds studied.

This suggests that bird biodiversity is severely underestimated, and is likely closer to 18,000 species worldwide.

The team also surveyed existing genetic studies of birds, which revealed that there could be upwards of 20,000 species.

“We show that avian evolutionary diversity is significantly underestimated due to a taxonomic tradition not found in most other taxonomic groups,” the researchers explained.

“Using a sample of 200 species taken from a list of 9,159 biological species determined primarily by morphological criteria, we applied a diagnostic, evolutionary species concept to a morphological and distributional data set that resulted in an estimate of 18,043 species of birds worldwide, with a 95% confidence interval of 15,845 to 20,470.”

“In a second, independent analysis, we examined intraspecific genetic data from 437 traditional avian species, finding an average of 2.4 evolutionary units per species, which can be considered proxies for phylogenetic species.”

But because the birds in the study were not selected randomly — and, in fact, many were likely chosen because they were already thought to have interesting genetic variation — this could be an overestimate.

“Future taxonomy efforts in ornithology should be based on both methods,” the authors noted.

“It was not our intent to propose new names for each of the more than 600 new species we identified in the research sample,” said co-author Dr. Joel Cracraft, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ornithology.

“However, our study provides a glimpse of what a future taxonomy should encompass.”

_____

G.F. Barrowclough et al. 2016. How Many Kinds of Birds Are There and Why Does It Matter? PLoS ONE 11 (11): e0166307; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166307

This article was first published by Sci-News.com on 29 Dec 2016.

 

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

 

 

Share this post with your friends





Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

avatar
J. Denys Bourque

Darn! Oh, darn!… Before this news my life list of birds seen/recorded added up to 10 % of the world’s 10.000 species. Now, it’s down to 6 %, LOL!
This expressed, I congratulate those who untiringly work for the conservation of birds, and thank all who post beautiful bird pics on this site.

Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days

  1. POLL: Should Japan be sanctioned for slaughtering dolphins and whales? – [3273 Views]
  2. POLL: Should the UK finally abandon its controversial badger cull? – [2161 Views]
  3. POLL: Should fox hunting legislation be repealed in the UK? – [2147 Views]
  4. POLL: Should the trophy hunting of Grizzly Bears be banned nationwide? – [2002 Views]
  5. Arctic Fox and Snowy Owl Filmed Doing Strange ‘Dance’ – But Why? – [1677 Views]
  6. How Sea Shepherd lost battle against Japan’s whale hunters in Antarctic – [1256 Views]
  7. POLL: Should We Revive Extinct Species? – [1114 Views]
  8. POLL: Should the Cheetah be classified as “Endangered”? – [1107 Views]
  9. It’s a Miracle! Wisdom Lays an Egg at Age 67 – [1032 Views]
  10. POLL: Should drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be banned? – [971 Views]

Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months

  1. POLL: Should hunting with hounds be banned? – [7722 Views]
  2. Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [4894 Views]
  3. POLL: Should there be a worldwide ban on fur farming? – [4159 Views]
  4. POLL: Should the trophy hunting of bears and wolves be banned? – [4049 Views]
  5. POLL: Should foxes be culled to protect domestic pets? [3799 Views]
  6. POLL: Should Japan be sanctioned for slaughtering dolphins and whales? – [3273 Views]
  7. POLL: Should the slaughter of badgers in the UK be finally stopped? – [3074 Views]
  8. POLL: Should the cruel sport of bullfighting be banned? [2873 Views]
  9. POLL: Should Canada ban the hunting of seals? [2667 Views]
  10. POLL: Should the Tories be allowed to bring back fox hunting? [2578 Views]