AsianScientist (Jul. 19, 2021) – Thanks to deforestation and habitat degradation in the Philippines’ lush landscapes, more native birds may be endangered than previously thought—including species that may not have been discovered yet. These findings were published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
With over 7,000 islands, the Philippine archipelago is considered a global biodiversity hotspot, hosting nearly 600 bird species alone. A large proportion of these birds are endemic to the country, meaning that they are found nowhere else.
In the last decade, the number of endemic species in the Philippines has risen from 172 to 258—with the increase larger than those seen in neighboring Asian countries like China and India. However, these gains in biodiversity have been threatened by deforestation, habitat degradation and wildlife exploitation.
Worryingly, the Philippines ranks eighth in the world for the number of globally threatened bird species. To save these birds before it’s too late, scientists are racing to identify the factors that increase the risk of species extinction.
A team led by researchers from the University of Utah sought to understand the current state of Philippine birds by first determining the relationship between conservation status and traits like body mass, diet, elevation range and the number of eggs laid during nesting.
They found that endemic Philippine species were significantly more likely to face extinction risk. Moreover, factors like narrow elevation ranges and high body mass also put the birds at higher risk for extinction. Through these measures, the researchers identified 14 species that could be globally threatened, despite not being currently classified as such under the IUCN Red List.
“We predicted that the Philippine Serpent-eagle and Writhed Hornbill, two species that are not currently recognized as being globally threatened, are endangered and critically endangered,” said first author Mr. Kyle Kittelberger from the University of Utah.
“We also predicted that the Palawan Peacock-pheasant, Calayan Rail and Philippine Eagle-owl, three species currently recognized internationally as being vulnerable, are likely endangered species,” he added. “All these birds therefore warrant heightened conservation attention as they may be more threatened than currently believed.”
Ultimately, their study provides a roadmap for identifying which species may warrant heightened conservation attention, not just in the Philippines—but also across the entire region.
“The most important thing that the Philippines can do to protect birds is to address the high levels of deforestation, habitat degradation, and wildlife exploitation, and to increase land protection for wildlife and increase funding for conservation efforts,” concluded Kittelberger.
The article can be found at: Kittelberger et al. (2021) Biological Correlates of Extinction Risk in Resident Philippine Avifauna.
Source: University of Utah; Photos: Çağan Şekercioğlu; Illustration: Lam Oi Keat/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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